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1.  Enzootic and Epizootic Rabies Associated with Vampire Bats, Peru 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2013;19(9):1463-1469.
During the past decade, incidence of human infection with rabies virus (RABV) spread by the common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus) increased considerably in South America, especially in remote areas of the Amazon rainforest, where these bats commonly feed on humans. To better understand the epizootiology of rabies associated with vampire bats, we used complete sequences of the nucleoprotein gene to infer phylogenetic relationships among 157 RABV isolates collected from humans, domestic animals, and wildlife, including bats, in Peru during 2002–2007. This analysis revealed distinct geographic structuring that indicates that RABVs spread gradually and involve different vampire bat subpopulations with different transmission cycles. Three putative new RABV lineages were found in 3 non–vampire bat species that may represent new virus reservoirs. Detection of novel RABV variants and accurate identification of reservoir hosts are critically important for the prevention and control of potential virus transmission, especially to humans.
PMCID: PMC3810916
rabies; molecular epidemiology; bats; Peru; viruses; zoonoses; vampire bats
2.  Evolutionary History and Phylogeography of Rabies Viruses Associated with Outbreaks in Trinidad 
Bat rabies is an emerging disease of public health significance in the Americas. The Caribbean island of Trinidad experiences periodic outbreaks within the livestock population. We performed molecular characterisation of Trinidad rabies virus (RABV) and used a Bayesian phylogeographic approach to investigate the extent to which outbreaks are a result of in situ evolution versus importation of virus from the nearby South American mainland. Trinidadian RABV sequences were confirmed as bat variant and clustered with Desmodus rotundus (vampire bat) related sequences. They fell into two largely temporally defined lineages designated Trinidad I and II. The Trinidad I lineage which included sequences from 1997–2000 (all but two of which were from the northeast of the island) was most closely related to RABV from Ecuador (2005, 2007), French Guiana (1990) and Venezuela (1993, 1994). Trinidad II comprised sequences from the southwest of the island, which clustered into two groups: Trinidad IIa, which included one sequence each from 2000 and 2007, and Trinidad IIb including all 2010 sequences. The Trinidad II sequences were most closely related to sequences from Brazil (1999, 2004) and Uruguay (2007, 2008). Phylogeographic analyses support three separate RABV introductions from the mainland from which each of the three Trinidadian lineages arose. The estimated dates for the introductions and subsequent lineage expansions suggest periods of in situ evolution within Trinidad following each introduction. These data also indicate co-circulation of Trinidad lineage I and IIa during 2000. In light of these findings and the likely vampire bat origin of Trinidadian RABV, further studies should be conducted to investigate the relationship between RABV spatiotemporal dynamics and vampire bat population ecology, in particular any movement between the mainland and Trinidad.
Author Summary
The Caribbean island of Trinidad experiences periodic rabies virus (RABV) outbreaks within the livestock population. In this study, we inferred the evolutionary history of RABV in the Americas and reconstructed past patterns of RABV geographic spread in order to address the question of whether Trinidadian outbreaks arise from locally maintained RABV or are the result of virus importation from the mainland (presumably via infected bats). Our results provide statistical support for three importation events that gave rise to each of three Trinidadian vampire bat-associated lineages identified in the study. They also indicate limited periods of in situ evolution within Trinidad following each of these introductions. The results also support Mexico and Brazil as major epicenters for the expansion of RABV associated with vampire bats throughout the Americas and consequently to Trinidad. The findings of our study are particularly relevant to local RABV monitoring and control. In addition to justifying vampire bats as the main target for active rabies surveillance and control activities in Trinidad, they suggest that more intense surveillance of regions that lie close to the mainland may be warranted. Finally, in light of these findings, further studies should be conducted to investigate the relationship between RABV spatiotemporal dynamics and vampire bat population ecology.
PMCID: PMC3749974  PMID: 23991230
3.  Molecular Inferences Suggest Multiple Host Shifts of Rabies Viruses from Bats to Mesocarnivores in Arizona during 2001–2009 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(6):e1002786.
In nature, rabies virus (RABV; genus Lyssavirus, family Rhabdoviridae) represents an assemblage of phylogenetic lineages, associated with specific mammalian host species. Although it is generally accepted that RABV evolved originally in bats and further shifted to carnivores, mechanisms of such host shifts are poorly understood, and examples are rarely present in surveillance data. Outbreaks in carnivores caused by a RABV variant, associated with big brown bats, occurred repeatedly during 2001–2009 in the Flagstaff area of Arizona. After each outbreak, extensive control campaigns were undertaken, with no reports of further rabies cases in carnivores for the next several years. However, questions remained whether all outbreaks were caused by a single introduction and further perpetuation of bat RABV in carnivore populations, or each outbreak was caused by an independent introduction of a bat virus. Another question of concern was related to adaptive changes in the RABV genome associated with host shifts. To address these questions, we sequenced and analyzed 66 complete and 20 nearly complete RABV genomes, including those from the Flagstaff area and other similar outbreaks in carnivores, caused by bat RABVs, and representatives of the major RABV lineages circulating in North America and worldwide. Phylogenetic analysis demonstrated that each Flagstaff outbreak was caused by an independent introduction of bat RABV into populations of carnivores. Positive selection analysis confirmed the absence of post-shift changes in RABV genes. In contrast, convergent evolution analysis demonstrated several amino acids in the N, P, G and L proteins, which might be significant for pre-adaptation of bat viruses to cause effective infection in carnivores. The substitution S/T242 in the viral glycoprotein is of particular merit, as a similar substitution was suggested for pathogenicity of Nishigahara RABV strain. Roles of the amino acid changes, detected in our study, require additional investigations, using reverse genetics and other approaches.
Author Summary
Host shifts of the rabies virus (RABV) from bats to carnivores are important for our understanding of viral evolution and emergence, and have significant public health implications, particularly for the areas where “terrestrial” rabies has been eliminated. In this study we addressed several rabies outbreaks in carnivores that occurred in the Flagstaff area of Arizona during 2001–2009, and caused by the RABV variant associated with big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus). Based on phylogenetic analysis we demonstrated that each outbreak resulted from a separate introduction of bat RABV into populations of carnivores. No post-shift changes in viral genomes were detected under the positive selection analysis. Trying to answer the question why certain bat RABV variants are capable for host shifts to carnivores and other variants are not, we developed a convergent evolution analysis, and implemented it for multiple RABV lineages circulating worldwide. This analysis identified several amino acids in RABV proteins which may facilitate host shifts from bats to carnivores. Precise roles of these amino acids require additional investigations, using reverse genetics and animal experimentation. In general, our approach and the results obtained can be used for prediction of host shifts and emergence of other zoonotic pathogens.
PMCID: PMC3380930  PMID: 22737076
4.  Rates of Viral Evolution Are Linked to Host Geography in Bat Rabies 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(5):e1002720.
Rates of evolution span orders of magnitude among RNA viruses with important implications for viral transmission and emergence. Although the tempo of viral evolution is often ascribed to viral features such as mutation rates and transmission mode, these factors alone cannot explain variation among closely related viruses, where host biology might operate more strongly on viral evolution. Here, we analyzed sequence data from hundreds of rabies viruses collected from bats throughout the Americas to describe dramatic variation in the speed of rabies virus evolution when circulating in ecologically distinct reservoir species. Integration of ecological and genetic data through a comparative Bayesian analysis revealed that viral evolutionary rates were labile following historical jumps between bat species and nearly four times faster in tropical and subtropical bats compared to temperate species. The association between geography and viral evolution could not be explained by host metabolism, phylogeny or variable selection pressures, and instead appeared to be a consequence of reduced seasonality in bat activity and virus transmission associated with climate. Our results demonstrate a key role for host ecology in shaping the tempo of evolution in multi-host viruses and highlight the power of comparative phylogenetic methods to identify the host and environmental features that influence transmission dynamics.
Author Summary
Rapid evolution of RNA viruses is intimately linked to their success in overcoming the defenses of their hosts. Several studies have shown that rates of viral evolution can vary dramatically among distantly related viral families. Variability in the speed of evolution among closely related viruses has received less attention, but could be an important determinant of the geographic or host species origins of viral emergence if certain species or regions promote especially rapid evolution. Here, using a dataset of rabies virus sequences collected from bat species throughout the Americas, we test the role of inter-specific differences in reservoir host biology on the tempo of viral evolution. We show the annual rate of molecular evolution to be a malleable trait of viruses that is accelerated in subtropical and tropical bats compared to temperate species. The association between geography and the speed of evolution appears to reflect differences in the seasonality of rabies virus transmission in different climatic zones. Our results illustrate that the viral mechanisms that are commonly invoked to explain heterogeneous rates of evolution among viral families may be insufficient to explain evolution in multi-host viruses and indicate a role for host biology in shaping the speed of viral evolution.
PMCID: PMC3355098  PMID: 22615575
5.  Detection of North American orthopoxviruses by real time-PCR 
Virology Journal  2011;8:313.
The prevalence of North American orthopoxviruses in nature is unknown and may be more difficult to ascertain due to wide spread use of vaccinia virus recombinant vaccines in the wild. A real time PCR assay was developed to allow for highly sensitive and specific detection of North American orthopoxvirus DNA in animal tissues and bodily fluids. This method is based on the amplification of a 156 bp sequence within a myristylated protein, highly conserved within the North American orthopoxviruses but distinct from orthologous genes present in other orthopoxviruses. The analytical sensitivity was 1.1 fg for Volepox virus DNA, 1.99 fg for Skunkpox virus DNA, and 6.4 fg for Raccoonpox virus DNA with a 95% confidence interval. Our assay did not cross-react with other orthopoxviruses or ten diverse representatives of the Chordopoxvirinae subfamily. This new assay showed more sensitivity than tissue culture tests, and was capable of differentiating North American orthopoxviruses from other members of Orthopoxvirus. Thus, our assay is a promising tool for highly sensitive and specific detection of North American orthopoxviruses in the United States and abroad.
PMCID: PMC3144017  PMID: 21689420
orthopoxviruses; North American orthopoxviruses; myristylated protein; real time PCR
6.  Ferret badger rabies origin and its revisited importance as potential source of rabies transmission in Southeast China 
BMC Infectious Diseases  2010;10:234.
The frequent occurrence of ferret badger-associated human rabies cases in southeast China highlights the lack of laboratory-based surveillance and urges revisiting the potential importance of this animal in rabies transmission. To determine if the ferret badgers actually contribute to human and dog rabies cases, and the possible origin of the ferret badger-associated rabies in the region, an active rabies survey was conducted to determine the frequency of rabies infection and seroprevalence in dogs and ferret badgers.
A retrospective survey on rabies epidemics was performed in Zhejiang, Jiangxi and Anhui provinces in southeast China. The brain tissues from ferret badgers and dogs were assayed by fluorescent antibody test. Rabies virus was isolated and sequenced for phylogenetic analysis. The sera from ferret badgers and dogs were titrated using rabies virus neutralizing antibodies (VNA) test.
The ferret badgers presented a higher percentage of rabies seroconversion than dogs did in the endemic region, reaching a maximum of 95% in the collected samples. Nine ferret badger-associated rabies viruses were isolated, sequenced, and were phylogenetically clustered as a separate group. Nucleotide sequence revealed 99.4-99.8% homology within the ferret badger isolates, and 83-89% homology to the dog isolates in the nucleoprotein and glycoprotein genes in the same rabies endemic regions.
Our data suggest ferret badger-associated rabies has likely formed as an independent enzootic originating from dogs during the long-term rabies infestation in southeast China. The eventual role of FB rabies in public health remains unclear. However, management of ferret badger bites, rabies awareness and control in the related regions should be an immediate need.
PMCID: PMC2927599  PMID: 20691095
7.  Molecular Epidemiology of Rabies in Southern People’s Republic of China 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2009;15(8):1192-1198.
Migration and transport of dogs may have caused recent epidemics of human rabies.
In recent years, the number of human rabies cases in the People’s Republic of China has increased during severe epidemics in 3 southern provinces (Guizhou, Guangxi, and Hunan). To analyze the causes of the high incidence of human rabies in this region, during 2005–2007, we collected 2,887 brain specimens from apparently healthy domestic dogs used for meat consumption in restaurants, 4 specimens from suspected rabid dogs, and 3 from humans with rabies in the 3 provinces. Partial nucleoprotein gene sequences were obtained from rabies-positive specimens. Phylogenetic relationships and distribution of viruses were determined. We infer that the spread of rabies viruses from high-incidence regions, particularly by long-distance movement or transprovincial translocation of dogs caused by human-related activities, may be 1 cause of the recent massive human rabies epidemics in southern China.
PMCID: PMC2815963  PMID: 19751579
Molecular epidemiology; nucleoprotein; rabies; epidemic; China; viruses; research
8.  Human Rabies and Rabies in Vampire and Nonvampire Bat Species, Southeastern Peru, 2007 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2009;15(8):1308-1311.
After a human rabies outbreak in southeastern Peru, we collected bats to estimate the prevalence of rabies in various species. Among 165 bats from 6 genera and 10 species, 10.3% were antibody positive; antibody prevalence was similar in vampire and nonvampire bats. Thus, nonvampire bats may also be a source for human rabies in Peru.
PMCID: PMC2815962  PMID: 19751600
Rabies virus; rabies; viruses; outbreak investigation; reservoir; vampire bats; Peru; dispatch
9.  Identification of New Rabies Virus Variant in Mexican Immigrant 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2008;14(12):1906-1908.
A novel rabies virus was identified after death in a man who had immigrated from Oaxaca, Mexico, to California, USA. Despite the patient’s history of exposure to domestic and wild carnivores, molecular and phylogenetic characterizations suggested that the virus originated from insectivorous bats. Enhanced surveillance is needed to elucidate likely reservoirs.
PMCID: PMC2634630  PMID: 19046517
rabies; rabies virus; lyssavirus; encephalitis; phylogenetics; emerging viral diseases; border surveillance; dispatch

Results 1-9 (9)