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Introduction and General Information

This page provides an overview of the occurrence and spread of raccoon rabies virus variant; further information, fully referenced, is provided in: Rabies Virus - Distribution and Geographical Occurrence (Viral Reports) and Rabies virus - Definitive Mammal Host Species (Viral Reports)

Raccoon rabies is of public health importance due to the large number of cases each year, the fact that the disease is endemic or epizootic in areas of high population density, and the fact than many raccoons are semi-domesticated and live in close proximity to humans. This means that there may be large numbers of potential human exposures to raccoon rabies, direct or indirect, with associated high costs of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and control efforts.

The history of rabies in raccoons is a combination of sporadic rabies, with rabid raccoons being detected as "spillover" from rabies in other hosts, and the establishment of the raccoon rabies virus variant in the Eastern US. 

  • Prior to the 1950s, all reports of rabies in raccoons were sporadic events and the rabies virus variants involved in these cases presumably reflected the local variants in the local hosts. In the 1950s, the raccoon rabies strain became recognised, first in peninsular Florida, later spreading north through other parts of Florida, into Georgia, and later into Southern Carolina and Alabama. In the late 1970s, raccoon rabies became established on the Virginia/West Virginia border, almost certainly as a result of translocation of raccoons from the south-eastern US for hunting purposes, and spread rapidly. Raccoon rabies has now [2008] spread over the whole of the eastern seaboard of the US and has reached as far north as Ontario and New Brunswick in Canada. (B358.4.w4, B360.16.w16, J4.223.w1, J4.225.w1, J4.231.w1, J14.40.w1, J19.132.w1, J101.126.w1, J257.165.w1, N7.52.w7)
  • Since the development and spread of raccoon rabies, individual rabid raccoons have still been confirmed outside the known raccoon rabies area. However, these cases involve the rabies strains associated with the different hosts in those geographical areas. (J4.219.w5, J4.221.w10, J4.223.w1, J93.24.w1)
Published Guidelines linked in Wildpro

 

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USA General Reports

Rabies in a raccoon was first reported in California in 1936. Rabid raccoons have been reported in other areas where raccoons are found, presumably due to infection with the local terrestrial, or occasionally bat, rabies variant. This has been confirmed where studies using monoclonal antibodies to distinguish between rabies strains have been carried out. Increased numbers of cases have occurred on occasion in association with outbreaks in other species. Rabid raccoons continue to be reported sporadically throughout the range of the raccoon within the USA, but the vast majority of cases occur in the raccoon rabies endemic area of the eastern US. 

Further information is provided in: 

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

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South-Eastern States

Rabies in raccoons in Florida was first recorded in 1947. Initial reports of rabies in raccoons without reports in foxes in the same areas were considered to be possibly an ecological phenomenon; later the emergence of a raccoon rabies virus variant was recognised. For several years raccoon rabies was, for reasons not properly understood, confined to the Florida peninsula. Raccoon rabies then spread north, reaching Georgia by 1962, but westward spread into the Florida panhandle occurred only in 1970; the reason for this delay is unknown. Nor is it known why rabid raccoons were reported in the Georgia/South Carolina border area in 1971-72, but the disease appears to have spread in South Carolina only starting in 1977-1978, or why raccoon rabies only started spreading in Alabama 1977-78. Raccoon rabies spread north to reach southern counties of North Carolina by 1992. Key dates are:
  • 1947: Florida
  • 1962: Georgia
  • 1972/1977: South Carolina
  • 1977/1978: Alabama
  • 1992: North Carolina (southern counties)

Several localised outbreaks of raccoon rabies have been recorded, including one in 1955-56 and several in 1967-1970, all along the coastal habitat of the Gulf Coast of Florida. Common features of these localized outbreaks in raccoons in Florida included:

  • high density populations;
  • areas of recent habitat destruction;
  • food available from human sources.

Further information is provided in: 

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

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North-Eastern and Mid-Atlantic States

Raccoon rabies virus variant was first detected in contiguous counties of West Virginia and Virginia in 1977 and 1978 respectively. The disease then spread across northern Virginia and north and south into other states along the Atlantic seaboard as follows:
  • 1981: Maryland
  • 1982: Pennsylvania; Washington, District of Columbia
  • 1987: Delaware
  • 1989: New Jersey
  • 1990: New York
  • 1991: North Carolina - northern counties (southern counties of North Carolina were first affected by spread northwards from South Carolina in 1992)
  • 1992: New Hampshire, Massachusetts
  • 1994: Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine
  • 1996: Ohio
  • 2003: Tennessee

The maps below show the pattern of spread of raccoon rabies in this area.

1993 1996 1999      
 RaccoonRabies_Map_CDC1994.jpg (51697 bytes) Click here for full page view Click here for full screen view      

[Conn/CT: Connecticut; Del/DE: Delaware; Mass/MA: Massachusetts; MD: Maryland; ME: Maine; NC: North Carolina; NY: New York State; NJ: New Jersey; OH: Ohio; PA: Pennsylvania; RI: Rhode Island; SC: South Carolina; VA: Virginia; WVa/WV: West Virginia]

Further information is provided in: 

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

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Rabies in Raccoons in Canada

As in the USA, rabies has been recorded in Canada as spillover from rabies in other species. In 1999, raccoon rabies virus variant was first detected in Ontario. A separate crossing of the St Lawrence river is thought to be responsible for raccoon rabies on Wolfe Island, Ontario, and another focus was first detected in September 2000 in New Brunswick. Raccoon rabies (in raccoons) was reported in Quebec during 2006.

Further information is provided in: Rabies Virus - Distribution and Geographical Occurrence (Viral Reports)

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

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Rabies in Raccoons Outside North America

To date [October 2005] there are no reports of raccoon rabies virus variant in raccoons in countries outside North America.

Further information is provided in: Rabies Virus - Distribution and Geographical Occurrence (Viral Reports)

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

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Raccoon Rabies in Other Species

Raccoon rabies virus variant has been detected in a variety of other species. Although some of these cases may represent transmission from one non-raccoon to another non-raccoon, the fact that raccoon rabies variant is involved indicates that the rabies was initially transmitted from a raccoon. 

  • Strain typing using monoclonal antibodies to epitopes on the rabies virus N protein has confirmed that isolates from other species within the raccoon rabies areas are identical with raccoon rabies variant. 
  • The species (other than raccoons) in which raccoon rabies variant is found most often are skunks; a number of foxes are also found rabid in the raccoon rabies areas each year and presumed to be infected with this variant. 
  • Raccoon rabies has been detected in various rodents and lagomorphs, most commonly the woodchuck. Nearly all cases of rabies in Marmota monax - Woodchucks occur within the raccoon rabies endemic area and few cases occur in the skunk-endemic area, which may indicate that these cases are due to transmission from raccoons rather than via skunks. However there may also be other non-biological reasons (e.g. which species are reported and tested, and human population density which affects likelihood of individuals being reported) why rabies in woodchucks is not reported from skunk-rabies endemic areas. 
  • Among domestic animals, raccoon rabies is commonly detected in cats and cattle. Most cases of rabies in cats in the US occur within the raccoon rabies area and most cases in cattle occur in the raccoon and skunk rabies areas. 
  • Raccoon rabies has also been confirmed in a number of the cases of rabies in miscellaneous carnivorous mammals not considered as major rabies hosts, particularly Lynx rufus - Bobcat, within the raccoon rabies areas. 
  • In 2003, the first case of fatal raccoon rabies in a human was confirmed. 

Further information, with references, is provided in: Rabies virus - Definitive Mammal Host Species (Viral Reports)

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

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Authors & Referees

Authors Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
Referee Dr Robert G. McLean (V.w42), , Rick Rossatte (V.w95)

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