Contrasting landscape epidemiology of two sympatric rabies virus strains



This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: Corrigendum Volume 21, Issue 6, 1533–1538, Article first published online: 15 February 2012

Samantha M. Wisely, Fax: +1 785 532 6653; E-mail:


Viral strain evolution and disease emergence are influenced by anthropogenic change to the environment. We investigated viral characteristics, host ecology, and landscape features in the rabies-striped skunk disease system of the central Great Plains to determine how these factors interact to influence disease emergence. We amplified portions of the N and G genes of rabies viral RNA from 269 samples extracted from striped skunk brains throughout the distribution of two different rabies strains for which striped skunks were the reservoir. Because the distribution of these two strains overlapped on the landscape and were present in the same host population, we could evaluate how viral properties influenced epidemiological patterns in the area of sympatry. We found that South Central Skunk rabies (SCSK) exhibited intense purifying selection and high infectivity, which are both characteristics of an epizootic virus. Conversely, North Central Skunk rabies (NCSK) exhibited relaxed purifying selection and comparatively lower infectivity, suggesting the presence of an enzootic virus. The host population in the area of sympatry was highly admixed, and skunks among allopatric and sympatric areas had similar effective population sizes. Spatial analysis indicated that landscape features had minimal influence on NCSK movement across the landscape, but those same features were partial barriers to the spread of SCSK. We conclude that NCSK and SCSK have different epidemiological properties that interact differently with both host and landscape features to influence rabies spread in the central Great Plains. We suggest a holistic approach for future studies of emerging infectious diseases that includes studies of viral properties, host characteristics, and spatial features.