Date of this Version
Rabies is an important public health concern in North America because of recent epidemics of a rabies virus variant associated with raccoons. The costs associated with surveillance, diagnostic testing, and post-exposure treatment of humans exposed to rabies have fostered coordinated efforts to control rabies spread by distributing an oral rabies vaccine to wild raccoons. Authorities have tried to contain westward expansion of the epidemic front of raccoonassociated rabies via a vaccine corridor established in counties of eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Although sporadic cases of rabies have been identified in Ohio since oral rabies vaccine distribution in 1998, the first evidence of a significant breach in this vaccine corridor was not detected until 2004 in Lake County, Ohio. Herein, we forecast the spatial spread of rabies in Ohio from this breach using a stochastic spatial model that was first developed for exploratory data analysis in Connecticut and next used to successfully hind-cast wave-front dynamics of rabies spread across New York. The projections, based on expansion from the Lake County breach, are strongly affected by the spread of rabies by rare, but unpredictable long-distance translocation of rabid raccoons; rabies may traverse central Ohio at a rate 2.5-fold greater than previously analyzed wildlife epidemics. Using prior estimates of the impact of local heterogeneities on wave-front propagation and of the time lag between surveillance-based detection of an initial rabies case to full-blown epidemic, specific regions within the state are identified for vaccine delivery and expanded surveillance effort.