After being free of rabies of terrestrial mammals since 1988, an outbreak of rabies occurred on the Island of Newfoundland in December 2002 and continued into the middle of 2003. Twenty-one cases, all due to the arctic fox strain of rabies virus, were reported. To explore the immediate origins of this outbreak, viruses from the Newfoundland epizootic were genetically compared to two other rabies viruses recovered in mid-2002 from Cartwright, a mainland coastal community near the Island. While all Island isolates from the 2002–03 outbreak were genetically very similar, consistent with a single introduction from the mainland, they were phylogenetically quite distant from the two samples from Cartwright. A broader-based study examined the relationships between the Island viruses and arctic fox strain viruses originating from across Canada over a period of 14 yr. This analysis indicated that the Newfoundland outbreak viruses were most similar to a variant identified in Labrador in 2004 but also widely distributed in northern Quebec both before and after the Newfoundland incursion. The eastern coastline of mainland Labrador has harbored a particularly large number of variants during the study period, some of which have not been detected elsewhere. A small number of Greenland isolates included in this study were dispersed within the clades of the Canadian samples rather than forming a discrete cluster, an observation that may underline the relative ease of movement of the rabies arctic lineage between these two countries as a result of animal movements over pack ice.

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