More work is needed to address canine distemper virus in endangered species, say researchers.
According to the study, CDV continues to spread among lions in the Serengeti, despite vaccination campaigns that have successfully reduced infections in dogs.
The virus is most common in domestic dogs and other canines, but it can also affect skunks and racoons, as well as posing a threat to big cats such as lions and tigers.
Vaccination programmes were introduced in 1996 after a CDV epidemic in Tanzania wiped out around 30% of lions in the Serengeti.
The findings were published in the journal PNAS and suggested dogs were initially responsible for transmitting the virus to lions. However, researchers now believe the virus is being maintained by other carnivores, including wildlife.
For two decades, scientists claim there has been a rise in the frequency of lion infections, while canine infection from the virus has fallen.
Mathematical biologist Mafalda Viana from the University of Glasgow, said: “Dog vaccination programmes are certainly effective at reducing CDV infection in dogs and should continue. But our study has shown that, because of the changing pattern of infections, such programmes alone might not be sufficient to fully prevent infection in other species.
“Protecting endangered species from CDV infection is important so we need to look more closely to find out where CDV is being harboured.”