Genetic Tracking of the Raccoon Variant of Rabies Virus in Eastern North America
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To gain insight into the incursion of the raccoon variant of rabies into the raccoon population in three Canadian provinces, a collection of 192 isolates of the raccoon rabies virus (RRV) strain was acquired from across its North American range and was genetically characterized. A 516-nucleotide segment of the non-coding region between the G and L protein open reading frames, corresponding to the most variable region of the rabies virus genome, was sequenced. This analysis identified 119 different sequences, and phylogenetic analysis of the dataset supports the documented history of RRV spread. Three distinct geographically restricted RRV lineages were identified. Lineage 1 was found in Florida, Alabama and Georgia and appears to form the ancestral lineage of the raccoon variant of rabies. Lineage 2, represented by just two isolates, was found only in Florida, while the third lineage appears broadly distributed throughout the rest of the eastern United States and eastern Canada. In New York State, two distinct spatially segregated variants were identified; the one occupying the western and northern portions of the state was responsible for an incursion of raccoon rabies into the Canadian province of Ontario. Isolates from New Brunswick and Quebec form distinct, separate clusters, consistent with their independent origins from neighboring areas of the United States. The data are consistent with localized northward incursion into these three separate areas with no evidence of east-west viral movement between the three Canadian provinces.
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