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Keywords:

  • carnivore;
  • infectious disease;
  • multi-host;
  • phylogeny;
  • rabies;
  • reservoir;
  • spill-over;
  • transmission

Summary

  • 1
    Knowledge of infection reservoir dynamics is critical for effective disease control, but identifying reservoirs of multi-host pathogens is challenging. Here, we synthesize several lines of evidence to investigate rabies reservoirs in complex carnivore communities of the Serengeti ecological region in northwest Tanzania, where the disease has been confirmed in 12 carnivore species.
  • 2
    Long-term monitoring data suggest that rabies persists in high-density domestic dog Canis familiaris populations (> 11 dogs km−2) and occurs less frequently in lower-density (< 5 dogs km−2) populations and only sporadically in wild carnivores.
  • 3
    Genetic data show that a single rabies virus variant belonging to the group of southern Africa canid-associated viruses (Africa 1b) circulates among a range of species, with no evidence of species-specific virus–host associations.
  • 4
    Within-species transmission was more frequently inferred from high-resolution epidemiological data than between-species transmission. Incidence patterns indicate that spill-over of rabies from domestic dog populations sometimes initiates short-lived chains of transmission in other carnivores.
  • 5
    Synthesis and applications. The balance of evidence suggests that the reservoir of rabies in the Serengeti ecosystem is a complex multi-host community where domestic dogs are the only population essential for persistence, although other carnivores contribute to the reservoir as non-maintenance populations. Control programmes that target domestic dog populations should therefore have the greatest impact on reducing the risk of infection in all other species including humans, livestock and endangered wildlife populations, but transmission in other species may increase the level of vaccination coverage in domestic dog populations necessary to eliminate rabies.