A new strain of rabies virus spreads

Flagstaff, United States - A strain of rabies virus from northern Arizona is moving faster than all other strains of rabies virus known. It infects foxes and skunks, which are now capable of passively transmit the virus, which could constitute a public health problem.

In Arizona, a strain of rabies virus that infects bats also infects foxes and skunks. It seems that they will pass the virus between them, but generally animals contaminated by bats are disoriented and die without being able to transmit the virus.

Laboratory studies of the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) in Atlanta seemed to confirm that the rabies virus of fox and the skunk had mutated from a strain of rabies from bats. "We can see some degree of similarity in their genetic codes," says Charles Rupprecht, chief of the rabies program for the CDC. The tests showed that the virus has adapted to skunks who passed the virus to each other not only through bites or scratches, but also by proximity, such as human influenza is transmitted.

Mr. Rupprecht CDC believes that the extension of Flagstaff in recent years has created an environment conducive to the transfer of rabies virus. New construction in wooded areas increased habitat and food resources for bats, skunks and foxes. Because the animals susceptible to rabies are concentrated in the region, infections are increasing. Each infection is an opportunity for the virus to mutate into a more virulent form. The situation in Arizona is worrisome because the species live close to infected people and experts have never seen a rapid adaptation of the virus to new species before.

For humans, a vaccine against rabies post-exposure can be effective to stop the virus and plan to vaccinate wild animals could halt the epidemic. Flagstaff has already imposed a quarantine of 90 days that began in April for all dogs and cats as well.

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