Background and objectives
Bats are recognized as a major reservoir of lyssaviruses; however, no bat lyssavirus has been isolated in Asia except for Aravan and Khujand virus in Central Asia. All Chinese lyssavirus isolates in previous reports have been of species rabies virus, mainly from dogs. Following at least two recent bat-associated human rabies-like cases in northeast China, we have initiated a study of the prevalence of lyssaviruses in bats in Jilin province and their public health implications. A bat lyssavirus has been isolated and its pathogenicity in mice and genomic alignment have been determined.
We report the first isolation of a bat lyssavirus in China, from the brain of a northeastern bat, Murina leucogaster. Its nucleoprotein gene shared 92.4%/98.9% (nucleotide) and 92.2%/98.8% (amino acid) identity with the two known Irkut virus isolates from Russia, and was designated IRKV-THChina12. Following intracranial and intramuscular injection, IRKV-THChina12 produced rabies-like symptoms in adult mice with a short inoculation period and high mortality. Nucleotide sequence analysis showed that IRKV-THChina12 has the same genomic organization as other lyssaviruses and its isolation provides an independent origin for the species IRKV.
We have identified the existence of a bat lyssavirus in a common Chinese bat species. Its high pathogenicity in adult mice suggests that public warnings and medical education regarding bat bites in China should be increased, and that surveillance be extended to provide a better understanding of Irkut virus ecology and its significance for public health.
The Lyssavirus genus presently comprises 12 species and two unapproved species with different antigenic characteristics. Rabies virus is detectable worldwide; Lagos bat virus, Mokola virus, Duvenhage virus, Shimoni bat virus, and Ikoma lyssavirus circulate in Africa; European bat lyssavirus types 1 and 2, Irkut virus, West Caucasian bat virus, and Bokeloh bat lyssavirus are found in Europe; and Australian bat lyssavirus has been isolated in Australia. Only Aravan and Khujand viruses have been identified in central Asia. Bats are recognized as the most important reservoirs of lyssaviruses. In China, all lyssavirus isolates in previous reports have been rabies virus, mainly from dogs; none has been from bats. Recently, however, at least two bat-associated human rabies or rabies-like cases have been reported in northeast China. Therefore, we conducted a search for bat lyssaviruses in Jilin province, close to where the first bat-associated human rabies case was recorded. We isolated a bat lyssavirus, identified as an Irkut virus isolate with high pathogenicity in experimental mice. Our findings suggest that public warnings and medical education regarding bat bites in China should be increased, and that surveillance should be extended to provide a better understanding of Irkut virus ecology and its significance for public health.