Orf virus (genus Parapoxvirus) has been associated with gross skin lesions on muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) from Victoria Island, Nunavut, Canada, where muskox populations are experiencing population declines. Orf virus causes painful proliferative and necrotizing dermatitis upon viral replication and shedding, which may lead to animal morbidity or mortality through secondary infections and starvation. Herpesvirus, known to cause gross lesions on skin and mucosa during active viral replication, has also been documented in muskoxen but to date has not been associated with clinical disease. Our objective was to characterize the variation of orf virus and herpesvirus in wild muskoxen of the Canadian Arctic. Tissue samples including gross skin lesions from the nose, lips, and/or legs were opportunistically collected from muskoxen on Victoria Island, Nunavut and Northwest Territories, and mainland Nunavut, Canada, from 2015 to 2017. Sampled muskoxen varied in age, sex, location, hunt type, and body condition. Tissues from 60 muskoxen were tested for genetic evidence of orf virus and herpesvirus infection using PCR targeting key viral genes. Tissues from 38 muskoxen, including 15 with gross lesions, were also examined for histological evidence of orf virus and herpesvirus infection. Eleven muskoxen (10 from Victoria Island and one from mainland Nunavut) with gross lesions had microscopic lesions consistent with orf virus infection. Muskox rhadinovirus 1, a gammaherpesvirus endemic to muskoxen, was detected in 33 (55%) muskoxen including 17 with gross lesions. In all tissues examined, there was no histological evidence of herpesvirus-specific disease. Sequencing and characterization of amplified PCR products using phylogenetic analysis indicated that a strain of orf virus, which appears to be unique, is likely to be endemic in muskoxen from Victoria Island and mainland Nunavut. Many of the muskoxen are also subclinically infected with a known muskox-endemic strain of herpesvirus.

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