Rabies study might improve detection time, quell spread


ST. PAUL MINN.-A better way of understanding how rabies affects infected animals is being researched in the Serengeti.

ST. PAUL MINN.—A better way of understanding how rabies effects infected animals is being researched in the Serengeti.

Dr. Craig Packer, a professor in the department of ecology, evolution and behavior at the University of Minnesota is collaborating with a team of veterinarians in Tanzania on a study of more than 60,000 vaccinated dogs to unveil early signs of rabies in animals.

Tanzania harbors more than 5 million unvaccinated domestic dogs that, in turn, aid in the more than 1,500 deaths that occur from dog-to-human transmission, more than had been previously projected, Packer says.

"People in the region want dogs in part for the same reason Americans do, others want dogs for protection," Packer adds.

Being able to identify how an infected animal behaves and identify the disease early is important to prevent further spread to other animals and humans, Packer adds.

The project is sponsored through a five-year grant, and is now in its third year of study, Packer says. So far, the research has revealed that the same strain of rabies virus that effects domestic dogs is infecting hyenas and jackals.

Researchers involved with the project have helped vaccinate 35,000 dogs around the Serengeti each year, Packer says.

"There is a new way to test for rabies that does not require neurologic tissue," Packer says. "This has enabled veterinarians and researchers to test for the virus in the field."

It is hypothesized that rabies was shipped into the country with dogs from Europe. Since dogs are viewed as the primary reservoir for the virus.

"A big concern is the lack of veterinary services in these areas of Africa," Packer says. "The unaffected dogs not only endanger humans and domestic animals, but they introduce it to wildlife such as endangered carnivore species like the Ethiopian wolf. This species' number has been seriously compromised by rabies."

Researchers on the project continue to determine what maintains the virus. Packer says the number of rabies strains are undetermined, but they tend to differ regionally.

A team of researchers reside in Africa, and Packer spends several months out of the year in the Serengeti.

"Once the specific host in each system is determined that promotes the spread of the virus, better ways to annihilate it will be manufactured," Packer says

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