Rabies in bats is considered enzootic throughout the New World, but few comparative data are available for most countries in the region. As part of a larger pathogen detection program, enhanced bat rabies surveillance was conducted in Guatemala, between 2009 and 2011. A total of 672 bats of 31 species were sampled and tested for rabies. The prevalence of rabies virus (RABV) detection among all collected bats was low (0.3%). Viral antigens were detected and infectious virus was isolated from the brains of two common vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus). RABV was also isolated from oral swabs, lungs and kidneys of both bats, whereas viral RNA was detected in all of the tissues examined by hemi-nested RT-PCR except for the liver of one bat. Sequencing of the nucleoprotein gene showed that both viruses were 100% identical, whereas sequencing of the glycoprotein gene revealed one non-synonymous substitution (302T,S). The two vampire bat RABV isolates in this study were phylogenetically related to viruses associated with vampire bats in the eastern states of Mexico and El Salvador. Additionally, 7% of sera collected from 398 bats demonstrated RABV neutralizing antibody. The proportion of seropositive bats varied significantly across trophic guilds, suggestive of complex intraspecific compartmentalization of RABV perpetuation.
In this study we provide results of the first active and extensive surveillance effort for rabies virus (RABV) circulation among bats in Guatemala. The survey included multiple geographic areas and multiple species of bats, to assess the broader public and veterinary health risks associated with rabies in bats in Guatemala. RABV was isolated from vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus) collected in two different locations in Guatemala. Sequencing of the isolates revealed a closer relationship to Mexican and Central American vampire bat isolates than to South American isolates. The detection of RABV neutralizing antibodies in 11 species, including insectivorous, frugivorous, and sanguivorous bats, demonstrates viral circulation in both hematophagous and non-hematophagous bat species in Guatemala. The presence of bat RABV in rural communities requires new strategies for public health education regarding contact with bats, improved laboratory-based surveillance of animals associated with human exposures, and novel techniques for modern rabies prevention and control. Additionally, healthcare practitioners should emphasize the collection of a detailed medical history, including questions regarding bat exposure, for patients presenting with clinical syndromes compatible with rabies or any clinically diagnosed progressive encephalitis.