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Rabies: Virus and Disease

  1. Susan A Nadin-Davis

Published Online: 15 DEC 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0002244.pub2



How to Cite

Nadin-Davis, S. A. 2010. Rabies: Virus and Disease. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. Centre of Expertise for Rabies, Ottawa Laboratory (Fallowfield), Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 DEC 2010

This is not the most recent version of the article. View current version (27 JAN 2015)


Rabies is an acute encephalomyelitis, caused by a group of genetically related lyssaviruses. The primary sources of rabies are major animal reservoirs in the orders Chiroptera and Carnivora, although this deadly zoonosis may affect all mammals, including humans. Despite the availability of biologicals that are efficacious in preventing the disease, once clinical signs develop, the disease is almost invariably fatal and kills over 50 000 people annually. The most effective control measures involve parenteral dog vaccination and oral vaccination of wildlife. Genetic analysis of lyssaviruses is extending our understanding of their diversity and evolution. The mechanisms that contribute to viral pathogenesis are being explored by studying the molecular interactions of the viral components with host cell factors. Such knowledge may provide for new less costly vaccines and effective therapeutic interventions in the future.

Key Concepts:

  • Rabies is a neurological disease that can affect almost all mammals and is almost invariably fatal once clinical signs develop.

  • Rabies is caused by all members of the Lyssavirus genus, bullet-shaped neurotropic viruses with small RNA genomes, which are normally transmitted in virus-laden saliva through bites.

  • Humans rarely transmit the disease to other humans but are exposed through contact with rabid animals.

  • Prevention of human disease is undertaken by a regimen of timely post-exposure prophylaxis.

  • Distinct Lyssavirus species and variants thereof are maintained in dogs in the developing world and by several wildlife species including foxes, skunks, raccoons, raccoon dogs, mongooses, jackals and many species of bats.

  • Through a series of viral–host interactions, rabies virus has evolved mechanisms that maintain the neural network required for its propagation and spread within the infected host while avoiding clearance by the host's immune system.

  • Knowledge of the diversity of the Lyssavirus genus is steadily expanding with increased surveillance and development of molecular tools to enable rapid characterisation of new isolates.

  • Current vaccines and biologicals are ineffective against the more diverse members of the genus thereby indicating that additional novel reagents may be required in the future.

  • Ultimately, control and eradication of rabies will require elimination of the disease from animal reservoirs through the application of efficacious and cost-effective methods of animal vaccination.


  • rabies;
  • hydrophobia;
  • Rhabdovirus;
  • Lyssavirus;
  • mad dog;
  • encephalitis;
  • zoonoses;
  • animal reservoirs;
  • prophylaxis