Striped skunks are one of the most important terrestrial reservoirs of rabies virus in North America, and yet the prevalence of rabies among this host is only passively monitored and the disease among this host remains largely unmanaged. Oral vaccination campaigns have not efficiently targeted striped skunks, while periodic spillovers of striped skunk variant viruses to other animals, including some domestic animals, are routinely recorded. In this study we evaluated the spatial and spatio-temporal patterns of infection status among striped skunk cases submitted for rabies testing in the North Central Plains of US in a Bayesian hierarchical framework, and also evaluated potential eco-climatological drivers of such patterns. Two Bayesian hierarchical models were fitted to point-referenced striped skunk rabies cases [n = 656 (negative), and n = 310 (positive)] received at a leading rabies diagnostic facility between the years 2007-2013. The first model included only spatial and temporal terms and a second covariate model included additional covariates representing eco-climatic conditions within a 4km2 home-range area for striped skunks. The better performing covariate model indicated the presence of significant spatial and temporal trends in the dataset and identified higher amounts of land covered by low-intensity developed areas [Odds ratio (OR) = 3.41; 95% Bayesian Credible Intervals (CrI) = 2.08, 3.85], higher level of patch fragmentation (OR = 1.70; 95% CrI = 1.25, 2.89), and diurnal temperature range (OR = 0.54; 95% CrI = 0.27, 0.91) to be important drivers of striped skunk rabies incidence in the study area. Model validation statistics indicated satisfactory performance for both models; however, the covariate model fared better. The findings of this study are important in the context of rabies management among striped skunks in North America, and the relevance of physical and climatological factors as risk factors for skunk to human rabies transmission and the space-time patterns of striped skunk rabies are discussed.
Raghavan, R. K., Hanlon, C. A., Goodin, D. G., Davis, R., Moore, M., Moore, S., & Anderson, G. A. (2016). Bayesian Spatiotemporal Pattern and Eco-climatological Drivers of Striped Skunk Rabies in the North Central Plains. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 10(4). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0004632