Background: Vampire bats are important rabies virus vectors, causing critical problems in both the livestock industry and public health sector in Latin America. In order to assess the epidemiological characteristics of vampire bat-transmitted rabies, the authors conducted phylogenetic and geographical analyses using sequence data of a large number of cattle rabies isolates collected from a wide geographical area in Brazil.
Methods: Partial nucleoprotein genes of rabies viruses isolated from 666 cattle and 18 vampire bats between 1987 and 2006 were sequenced and used for phylogenetic analysis. The genetic variants were plotted on topographical maps of Brazil.
Results: In this study, 593 samples consisting of 24 genetic variants were analyzed. Regional localization of variants was observed, with the distribution of several variants found to be delimited by mountain ranges which served as geographic boundaries. The geographical distributions of vampire-bat and cattle isolates that were classified as the identical phylogenetic group were found to overlap with high certainty. Most of the samples analyzed in this study were isolated from adjacent areas linked by rivers.
Conclusion: This study revealed the existence of several dozen regional variants associated with vampire bats in Brazil, with the distribution patterns of these variants found to be affected by mountain ranges and rivers. These results suggest that epidemiological characteristics of vampire bat-related rabies appear to be associated with the topographical and geographical characteristics of areas where cattle are maintained, and the factors affecting vampire bat ecology.