Integrating the landscape epidemiology and genetics of RNA viruses: rabies in domestic dogs as a model
Understanding the transmission dynamics of generalist pathogens that infect multiple host species is essential for their effective control. Only by identifying those host populations that are critical to the permanent maintenance of the pathogen, as opposed to populations in which outbreaks are the result of 'spillover' infections, can control measures be appropriately directed. Rabies virus is capable of infecting a wide range of host species, but in many ecosystems, particular variants circulate among only a limited range of potential host populations. The Serengeti ecosystem (in northwestern Tanzania) supports a complex community of wild carnivores that are threatened by generalist pathogens that also circulate in domestic dog populations surrounding the park boundaries. While the combined assemblage of host species appears capable of permanently maintaining rabies in the ecosystem, little is known about the patterns of circulation within and between these host populations. Here we use molecular phylogenetics to test whether distinct virus-host associations occur in this species-rich carnivore community. Our analysis identifies a single major variant belonging to the group of southern Africa canid-associated viruses (Africa 1b) to be circulating within this ecosystem, and no evidence for species-specific grouping. A statistical parsimony analysis of nucleoprotein and glycoprotein gene sequence data is consistent with both within- and between-species transmission events. While likely differential sampling effort between host species precludes a definitive inference, the results are most consistent with dogs comprising the reservoir of rabies and emphasize the importance of applying control efforts in dog populations.