Phylogeographic analysis of rabies viruses in the Philippines

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Abstract

Rabies still remains a public health threat in the Philippines. A significant number of human rabies cases, about 200-300 cases annually, have been reported, and the country needs an effective strategy for rabies control. To develop an effective control strategy, it is important to understand the transmission patterns of the rabies viruses. We conducted phylogenetic analyses by considering the temporal and spatial evolution of rabies viruses to reveal the transmission dynamics in the Philippines.After evaluating the molecular clock and phylogeographic analysis, we estimated that the Philippine strains were introduced from China around the beginning of 20th century. Upon this introduction, the rabies viruses evolved within the Philippines to form three major clades, and there was no indication of introduction of other rabies viruses from any other country. However, within the Philippines, island-to-island migrations were observed. Since then, the rabies viruses have diffused and only evolved within each island group.The evolutionary pattern of these viruses was strongly shaped by geographical boundaries. The association index statistics demonstrated a strong spatial structure within the island group, indicating that the seas were a significant geographical barrier for viral dispersal. Strong spatial structure was also observed even at a regional level, and most of the viral migrations (79.7% of the total median number) in Luzon were observed between neighboring regions.Rabies viruses were genetically clustered at a regional level, and this strong spatial structure suggests a geographical clustering of transmission chains and the potential effectiveness of rabies control that targets geographical clustering. Dog vaccination campaigns have been conducted independently by local governments in the Philippines, but it could be more effective to implement a coordinated vaccination campaign among neighboring areas to eliminate geographically-clustered rabies transmission chains. © 2014 The Authors.

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Tohma, K., Saito, M., Kamigaki, T., Tuason, L. T., Demetria, C. S., Orbina, J. R. C., … Oshitani, H. (2014). Phylogeographic analysis of rabies viruses in the Philippines. Infection, Genetics and Evolution, 23, 86–94. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2014.01.026

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