Exploring reservoir dynamics: a case study of rabies in the Serengeti ecosystem

Authors

  • Tiziana Lembo,

    1. Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, Easter Bush Veterinary Centre, Roslin, Midlothian EH25 9RG, UK;
    2. Viral Transmission Dynamics Project, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, PO Box 661, Arusha, Tanzania;
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  • Katie Hampson,

    Corresponding author
    1. Viral Transmission Dynamics Project, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, PO Box 661, Arusha, Tanzania;
    2. Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Alfred Denny Building, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK;
    3. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544-1003, USA;
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  • Daniel T. Haydon,

    1. Division of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK;
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  • Meggan Craft,

    1. Viral Transmission Dynamics Project, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, PO Box 661, Arusha, Tanzania;
    2. Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108, USA;
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  • Andy Dobson,

    1. Viral Transmission Dynamics Project, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, PO Box 661, Arusha, Tanzania;
    2. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544-1003, USA;
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  • Jonathan Dushoff,

    1. Department of Biology, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1, Canada;
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  • Eblate Ernest,

    1. Viral Transmission Dynamics Project, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, PO Box 661, Arusha, Tanzania;
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  • Richard Hoare,

    1. Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute–Messerli Foundation Wildlife Veterinary Programme, PO Box 707, Arusha, Tanzania; and
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  • Magai Kaare,

    1. Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, Easter Bush Veterinary Centre, Roslin, Midlothian EH25 9RG, UK;
    2. Viral Transmission Dynamics Project, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, PO Box 661, Arusha, Tanzania;
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  • Titus Mlengeya,

    1. Tanzania National Parks, PO Box 3134, Arusha, Tanzania
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  • Christine Mentzel,

    1. Viral Transmission Dynamics Project, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, PO Box 661, Arusha, Tanzania;
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  • Sarah Cleaveland

    1. Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, Easter Bush Veterinary Centre, Roslin, Midlothian EH25 9RG, UK;
    2. Viral Transmission Dynamics Project, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, PO Box 661, Arusha, Tanzania;
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  • Authors Tiziana Lembo and Katie Hampson contributed equally to this study.

    Data deposition. The sequences of rabies viruses produced in this study have been deposited in the GenBank data base (Accession nos EU296434–EU296446).

*Correspondence author. E-mail: k.hampson@shef.ac.uk

Summary

  • 1Knowledge 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.
  • 2Long-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.
  • 3Genetic 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.
  • 4Within-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.
  • 5Synthesis 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.

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