New rabies virus discovered in Tanzania

New rabies virus discovered in Tanzania

May 01, 2012
By staff

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND — Scientists from the University of Glasgow and the United Kingdom's Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) have identified a new type of rabies virus in Tanzania.

The new virus was identified when a child was attacked by a civet—a cat-like nocturnal animal—in a part of the Serengeti previously believed to be rabies-free since 2000 due to a canine vaccination program. The civet's infection was thought to be caused by the emergence of an entirely new source of infection, rather than a breach in the canine vaccination program.

The discovery was made as part of a rabies surveillance research project funded by the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, the Wellcome Trust, UBS Optimus Foundation and the Medical Research Council, according to the University of Glasgow.

Genetic tests conducted on the sample showed that the virus was similar to a bat rabies virus isolated in parts of Eastern Europe.

"The vast majority of human deaths from rabies are caused by bites from domestic dogs with rabies, which can be effectively controlled through mass dog vaccination campaigns," says Professor Sarah Cleaveland of the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine at the University of Glasgow. "This new virus is unlikely to pose a threat to humans on the scale of dog rabies. However this research highlights the need for vigilance and maintaining good levels of surveillance. The study also demonstrates how powerful new genetic tools are revealing the complexity of emerging viruses at the wildlife-human interface."

Professor Anthony Fooks, head of the Wildlife Zoonoses and Vector-Borne Diseases Research Group at AHVLA, adds that it is not yet clear whether current human and animal vaccines will offer protective immunity or be effective after exposure.

A full study on the virus's discovery was published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases."