Study finds climate, landscape changes may lead to more rabid skunks

July 25, 2016 by Joe Montgomery, Kansas State University
This map shows spatial distribution of positive — the dark circles — and negative — the red circles — test results for striped skunk rabies in the study region. Credit: Kansas State University

While striped skunks already have a nose-worthy reputation for being avoided, new research at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine finds they carry a serious health threat for humans and animals: rabies.

Researchers in the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory recently evaluated the spatial and spatio-temporal patterns of infection status among striped skunk cases submitted for testing in the north central Plains of the U.S., including potential eco-climatological drivers of such patterns.

"These animals represent one of the most important terrestrial reservoirs of in North America and yet the prevalence of rabies among this host is only passively monitored and the disease remains largely unmanaged," said Susan Moore, director of the Rabies Laboratory. "Vaccination campaigns have not efficiently targeted striped skunks. There are occasional spillovers of striped skunk viruses to other animals, including some pets that are routinely recorded in our lab."

Ram Raghavan, a spatial epidemiologist at the , worked closely with the Rabies Laboratory on this project.

"Our findings indicate the year-to-year and spatial origins of rabies occurrences in Kansas and Nebraska are currently stable," Raghavan said. "Certain physical environment and climatic factors play an important role in determining such temporal and spatial patterns. For example, there is a relatively higher risk of rabies transmission from striped skunks to humans who reside in developed low-intensity areas and highly fragmented landscapes, such as edges of woodlands and agricultural lands, than in other places."

The study, "Bayesian Spatiotemporal Pattern and Eco-Climatological Drivers of Striped Skunk Rabies in the North Central Plains," was recently published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. The study suggests that daytime temperature range—a indicator that is decreasing at a slow but steady rate—may increase the general risk for striped skunks to contract rabies.

Doug Goodin, professor of geography at Kansas State University, contributed to the study with remote-sensing data to help establish some of the explanatory framework for the project.

"We are trying to understand how important the spatial aspects are in regard to infectious diseases and the applications of microclimatology," Goodin said. "You can't understand the distributions without understanding where things are placed. It seems to be pretty clear that climate will affect the distribution of this disease. The big questions are about which aspects of climate change are going to affect particular disease types. The package of climate variables related to mammals is going to be different than those variables involving diseases spread by insects or arthropods."

"Human-related landscape changes and climate change both appear likely to exacerbate the prevalence of rabies in striped skunks," Moore said. "But further studies are necessary to more fully understand the dynamics of skunk rabies and its impact upon the prevention of rabies among humans and other animals. The important thing is we now have better tools to help try to eradicate rabies in the future."

Explore further: Protect yourself and your pet from rising threat of rabies

More information: Ram K. Raghavan et al. Bayesian Spatiotemporal Pattern and Eco-climatological Drivers of Striped Skunk Rabies in the North Central Plains, PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases (2016). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0004632

Related Stories

Protect yourself and your pet from rising threat of rabies

May 19, 2015
A bat flying erratically during daylight hours, a raccoon slowly wandering down the middle of a road, a fox that does not run away when you approach, a dead skunk in your horse's corral.

WHO says the international community must do more to take action against rabies

July 16, 2015
A new report from the World Health Organisation urges the global community to accelerate action against rabies and other neglected zoonotic diseases.

Philippines seeks to end rabies deaths in two years

March 10, 2014
The Philippines plans to vaccinate seven million dogs within two years to end its status as one of the world's most rabies-prone nations, the health department said Monday.

Recommended for you

Researchers define possible molecular pathway for neurodegeneration in prion diseases

September 21, 2018
A new study has shed light on the mechanisms underlying the progression of prion diseases and identified a potential target for treatment.

Pre-clinical success for a universal flu vaccine offers hope for third generation approach

September 21, 2018
Researchers from the University of Oxford's Department of Zoology have demonstrated pre-clinical success for a universal flu vaccine in a new paper published in Nature Communications.

A new approach to developing a vaccine against vivax malaria

September 21, 2018
A novel study reports an innovative approach for developing a vaccine against Plasmodium vivax, the most prevalent human malaria parasite outside sub-Saharan Africa. The study led by Hernando A. del Portillo and Carmen Fernandez-Becerra, ...

Fighting a deadly parasite: Scientists devise a method to store Cryptosporidium, aiding vaccine research efforts

September 21, 2018
In May, just before one of the hottest summers on record, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning about diseases lurking in recreational water facilities like swimming pools and water playgrounds. ...

Affordable Care Act: Study finds surprising gaps in HIV care providers' knowledge

September 20, 2018
A new study has revealed surprising gaps in some HIV medical providers' knowledge of the Affordable Care Act, with more than a quarter of providers surveyed unable to say whether their state had expanded Medicaid.

Preventing a dengue outbreak at the 2020 Summer Olympics

September 20, 2018
In 2014, a dengue outbreak unexpectedly occurred in Tokyo. What does that mean for the 2020 summer Olympics and Paralympics being held in the city? Researchers report this week in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases that new ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.