Background: Canine distemper (CD) is one of the most contagious and lethal viral diseases in dogs. Despite the widespread use of vaccines, the prevalence of the CD virus (CDV) has increased at an alarming rate in recent years. In this phylodynamic study, we investigated the spatiotemporal modes of dispersal, viral demographic trends, and effectiveness of vaccines for CDV. A total of 188 full-length CDV hemagglutinin (H) gene sequences dataset were subjected to recombination analysis, including seven from modified live vaccine (MLV) strains and 12 from Taiwan specimens. After excluding the MLV strains and potential recombinant strains, alignments of 176 of 188 previous CDV strains were further used to analyze phylodynamic characteristics, and evidence of selection, and co-evolution. Results: The CDV genotype consisted of MLV-associated genotypes such as America-1 and Rockborn-like strains, which were characterized by long terminal branches and no distinct geographical patterns among lineages. In contrast, wild-type isolates clustered into lineages with a spatiotemporal structure and short terminal branches. Co-circulation and extensive diversification were simultaneously observed. The sequence variation signature was shaped by both geographic diversity and host tropism. Codon 506 was identified as a multi-epistatic interacting in the H protein. Conclusions: The topological signature revealed in this study suggests different epidemic scenarios. For example, a ladder-like backbone is a hallmark of directional selection, and cladogenesis at long terminal branches indicates the emergence of a surviving lineage. The stable effective viral population of CDV indicate the effectiveness of vaccines currently used to control the virus.
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