Wildlife Disease and Zoonotics


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 76, No. 3 (Aug., 1995), pp. 681-694


Rabies is caused by a single-stranded, negative-sense RNA virus, maintained in nature by a variety of animal reservoirs. Rabies virus infects the central nervous system, resulting in progressive encephalopathy and ultimately death in an infected human. Globally, the risk of contracting rabies for humans is greatest in regions of the developing world where dog rabies is enzootic. Where rabies in dogs has been eliminated or otherwise controlled through vaccination programs, the disease can be maintained by wildlife. Wildlife primarily involved in maintenance of transmission cycles are carnivores and bats. Persons having frequent contact with wildlife, such as mammalogists, are at greater risk than the general population for exposure to rabid animals. Rabies prevention can be achieved by elimination of exposure and by vaccination through preexposure prophylaxis and postexposure treatment. Preexposure rabies prophylaxis affords a measure of protection for unrecognized rabies exposures and simplifies postexposure treatment. Postexposure treatment is recommended following exposure to a potentially rabid animal and involves treatment of wound and administration of rabies vaccine as well as rabies immune globulin for individuals not previously vaccinated. Future research on rabies is necessary to define the effects of infection on wildlife populations and to evaluate the potential for intervening in wildlife transmission using oral rabies vaccines.