Rabies continues to be a major public health problem in the Philippines, where 200–300 human cases were reported annually between 2001 and 2011. Understanding the phylogeography of rabies viruses is important for establishing a more effective and feasible control strategy.
We performed a molecular analysis of rabies viruses in the Philippines using rabied animal brain samples. The samples were collected from 11 of 17 regions, which covered three island groups (Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao). Partial nucleoprotein (N) gene sequencing was performed on 57 samples and complete glycoprotein (G) gene sequencing was performed on 235 samples collected between 2004 and 2010.
The Philippine strains of rabies viruses were included in a distinct phylogenetic cluster, previously named Asian 2b, which appeared to have diverged from the Chinese strain named Asian 2a. The Philippine strains were further divided into three major clades, which were found exclusively in different island groups: clades L, V, and M in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, respectively. Clade L was subdivided into nine subclades (L1–L9) and clade V was subdivided into two subclades (V1 and V2). With a few exceptions, most strains in each subclade were distributed in specific geographic areas. There were also four strains that were divided into two genogroups but were not classified into any of the three major clades, and all four strains were found in the island group of Luzon.
We detected three major clades and two distinct genogroups of rabies viruses in the Philippines. Our data suggest that viruses of each clade and subclade evolved independently in each area without frequent introduction into other areas. An important implication of these data is that geographically targeted dog vaccination using the island group approach may effectively control rabies in the Philippines.
Rabies continues to be a major public health problem in the Philippines. We conducted a molecular epidemiological study of rabies using the complete glycoprotein (G) gene from 235 animal brain samples collected in the Philippines between 2004 and 2010. We identified three major clades and two distinct genogroups in the Philippines. The three major clades L, V, and M were found specifically in the Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao island groups, respectively. Additionally, two minor genogroups were located in the Luzon island group. These data suggest that although human mediated transmission may have occurred, these virus clades evolved independently after a single introduction into each island group. All of the analyzed Philippine strains were clustered into Asian 2b, which diverged from the Chinese strain Asian 2a. No recent introduction of rabies into the Philippines from other countries was apparent. The elimination of rabies by 2020 is a national goal in the Philippines, necessitating urgent development of a more effective and feasible strategy for controlling rabies. Our findings indicate that a geographically targeted dog vaccination campaign may effectively control rabies in island nations such as the Philippines.