To evaluate rabies virus (RABV) characterization data obtained from animal specimens submitted to the US public health rabies surveillance system and propose a standardized approach to sample selection for RABV characterization that could enhance early detection of important rabies epizootic events in the United States.
United States public health rabies surveillance system data collected from January 1, 2010, through December 31, 2015.
Data were reviewed to identify RABV-positive specimens for which virus characterization would likely provide information regarding any of 4 overarching events (discovery of novel variants, translocation of RABV variants, host-shift events, and any unusual rabies-related event) that could substantially alter animal rabies epizootiology in the United States. These specimens were designated as specimens of epizootiological importance (SEIs). Estimates of the additional number of specimens that public health laboratories could expect to process each year if all SEIs underwent RABV characterization were calculated.
During the 6-year period, the mean annual number of SEIs was 855 (95% CI, 739 to 971); the mean number of SEIs that underwent virus characterization was 270 (95% CI, 187 to 353). Virus characterization of all SEIs would be expected to increase the public health laboratories’ test load by approximately 585 (95% CI, 543 to 625) specimens/y.
CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE
Prioritization of RABV characterization of SEIs may improve early detection of rabies events associated with RABV host shifts, variant translocations, and importation. Characterization of SEIs may help refine wildlife rabies management practices. Each public health laboratory should evaluate testing of SEIs to ensure diagnostic laboratory capacity is not overstretched.
To evaluate species identification and rabies virus (RABV) characterization among samples from bats submitted for rabies testing in the United States and assess whether a standardized approach to specimen selection for RABV characterization could enhance detection of a sentinel event in virus dissemination among bats.
United States public health rabies surveillance system data collected in January 2010 through December 2015.
The number of rabies-tested bats for which species was reported and the number of RABV-positive samples for which virus characterization would likely provide information regarding introduction of novel RABV variants and translocation and host-shift events were calculated. These specimens were designated as specimens of epizootiological importance (SEIs). Additionally, the estimated test load that public health laboratories could expect if all SEIs underwent RABV characterization was determined.
Species was reported for 74,928 of 160,017 (47%) bats submitted for rabies testing. Identified SEIs were grouped in 3 subcategories, namely nonindigenous bats; bats in southern border states, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands; and bats of species that are not commonly found to be inflected with RABV. Annually, 692 (95% CI, 600 to 784) SEIs were identified, of which only 295 (95% CI, 148 to 442) underwent virus characterization. Virus characterization of all SEIs would be expected to increase public health laboratories’ overall test load by 397 (95% CI, 287 to 506) samples each year.
CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE
Species identification and RABV characterization may aid detection of a sentinel event in bat RABV dissemination. With additional resources, RABV characterization of all SEIs as a standardized approach to testing could contribute to knowledge of circulating bat RABV variants.