Bat-Associated Rabies Virus in Skunks
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Rabies was undetected in terrestrial wildlife of northern Arizona until 2001, when rabies was diagnosed in 19 rabid skunks in Flagstaff. Laboratory analyses showed causative rabies viruses associated with bats, which indicated cross-species transmission of unprecedented magnitude. Public health infrastructure must be maintained to address emerging zoonotic diseases.
In North America, >90% of cases of rabies in animals occur in wildlife (1); several mammalian taxa harbor characteristic rabies virus variants (RABVV). In Arizona, skunks (Mephitis mephitis) and gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) maintain independent rabies enzootic cycles, and in indigenous bats, rabies has been diagnosed in 14 of 28 species (Arizona Department of Health Services, unpub. data). Although skunks live throughout Arizona, until 2001, rabid skunks had been found only in the southeastern quadrant of the state.
In the United States, but RABVV are a source of infection for humans and other mammals (2-8). Typically, interspecies infection produces a single fatal spillover event; secondary transmission has rarely been observed. Antigenic typing of rabid carnivores in Arizona from 1996 through 2000 identified bat RABVV in 1 domestic dog and 2 gray foxes. This report describes the largest documented rabies epizootic among terrestrial mammals infected with bat RABVV, with perpetuated animal-to-animal transmission. Coincident with the zoonotic disease significance, this report provides contemporary insight into pathogen evolution (9).