Mongoose rabies in southern Africa: a re-evaluation based on molecular epidemiology

L H Nel, C T Sabeta, B von Teichman, J B Jaftha, C E Rupprecht, J Bingham
Virus Research 2005, 109 (2): 165-73
Relative to the developed world, rabies has been poorly studied in the vast African continent. The southern African countries of Zimbabwe and South Africa, however, are known to sustain a great diversity of lyssaviruses, with large biological variations amongst genotype 1 (rabies viruses) at present more apparent here than elsewhere on the continent. One recognized biotype of rabies virus in the subcontinent appears to be specifically adapted to a variety of mongooses, belonging to the Viverrinae subfamily (family Herpestidae) and are commonly referred to as viverrid viruses, although the term mongoose rabies would be more correct, considering the taxonomic status of the host species involved. It was our objective to study the genetic relationships of 77 rabies virus isolates of this mongoose biotype, isolated in South Africa and Zimbabwe, towards elucidation of the molecular epidemiology of this interesting group of African viruses. In our study of a 592 nucleotide sequence encompassing the cytoplasmic domain of the glycoprotein and the G-L intergenic region of the viral genomes, we provide the first comprehensive data on the molecular epidemiology of these viruses and indicate a history of extended evolutionary adaptation in this geographical domain. The molecular epidemiological observations reported here are highly unlikely to be limited to the small geographical areas of South Africa and Zimbabwe and illustrate the need for lyssavirus surveillance in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa and throughout the entire continent.

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