Taiwan had been declared rabies-free in humans and domestic animals for five decades until July 2013, when surprisingly, three Formosan ferret badgers (FB) were diagnosed with rabies. Since then, a variety of wild carnivores and other wildlife species have been found dead, neurologically ill, or exhibiting aggressive behaviors around the island. To determine the affected animal species, geographic areas, and environments, animal bodies were examined for rabies by direct fluorescent antibody test (FAT). The viral genomes from the brains of selected rabid animals were sequenced for the phylogeny of rabies viruses (RABV). Out of a total of 1016 wild carnivores, 276/831 (33.2%) Formosan FBs were FAT positive, with occasional biting incidents in 1 dog and suspected spillover in 1 house shrew. All other animals tested, including dogs, cats, bats, mice, house shrews, and squirrels, were rabies-negative. The rabies was badger-associated and confined to nine counties/cities in sylvatic environments. Phylogeny of nucleoprotein and glycoprotein genes from 59 Formosan FB-associated RABV revealed them to be clustered in two distinct groups, TWI and TWII, consistent with the geographic segregation into western and eastern Taiwan provided by the Central Mountain Range and into northern rabies-free and central-southern rabies-affected regions by a river bisecting western Taiwan. The unique features of geographic and genetic segregation, sylvatic enzooticity, and FB-association of RABV suggest a logical strategy for the control of rabies in this nation.
Keywords: Formosan ferret badger; Glycoprotein; Nucleoprotein; Phylogenetic analysis; Rabies; Sylvatic.
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