Canis ISSN: 2398-2942

Lyssavirus (rabies)

Synonym(s): Rabies virus

Contributor(s): Melissa Kennedy




  • Family: Rhabdoviridae.
  • Genus: Lyssavirus.
  • RNA virus.


  • Gk: rhabdos - rod; refers to the shape of the virus. Often described as bullet-shaped; lyssa - rage, fury.

Active Forms

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Clinical Effects



  • Important reservoir hosts are foxes, skunks, wolves, raccoons, mongoose, coyotes and bats, depending on region. These animals carry infectious virus in their salivary glands.


  • Following transmission (usually by biting), rabies virus persists in local muscle tissue for hours or days.
  • Initial replication may occur in muscle cells.
  • Virus is taken up by motor nerve endings and spreads to the CNS, where further replication occurs.
  • Virus then spreads to other organs, eg salivary glands, cornea and tonsils.


  • Saliva: bites from infected animals.

Pathological effects


Control via animal


  • Strict 6 month period of quarantine of animals when imported into rabies-free countries from countries where rabies is endemic.
  • Elimination of stray dogs and cats and immunization of all mammalian pets with live attenuated virus or inactivated vaccine to control urban rabies in countries where rabies is endemic.
  • The Advisory Group on Quarantine has recently recommended that quarantine be replaced by a system of rabies vaccination, blood testing and microchip identification.
  • After consultation, it appears that the changes will be put in place for:
    • Cats and dogs resident in Great Britain returning from another EU or EEA Member State.
    • Cats and dogs that have been resident in an EU or EEA Member State or a rabies-free island for at least six months.
  • Dogs and cats entering from other countries will be subject to quarantine.

Control via environment

  • Vaccine-containing baits have been shown to be effective in controlling rabies in foxes in areas of Europe, also in wildlife in USA.


  • Vaccination of mammalian pets in countries where rabies is endemic.
  • Oral immunization of wildlife in some European countries has been successful.
  • New regulations to be put in place in the USA will require blood-testing, vaccination and identification of animals imported from certain countries.
  • Such vaccination must take place at at least 3 months of age, using inactivated and adjuvanted rabies vaccine.
  • Vaccination must be boosted at least annually.
  • Success of vaccination will be checked using a blood test; animals must show a rabies antibody titre of at least 0.5 IU/ml.


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Further Reading


Referred papers

  • Recent references from VetMedResource and PubMed.
  • Tepsumethanon V, Lumlertdacha B, Mitmoonpitak C et al (1997) Fluorescent antibody test for rabies: prospective study of 8,987 brainsClinical Infectious diseases 25(6), 1459-1461.
  • Baer G M (1997) Evaluation of an animal rabies vaccine by use of two types of potency test. Am J Vet Res 58(8), 837-40.
  • Delgado S & Carmenes P (1997) Immune response following a vaccination campaign against rabies in dogs from northwestern SpainPreventive Vet Med 31(3-4), 257-61.
  • Fu Z F (1997) Rabies and rabies research - past, present and future.Vaccine 15(Suppl), S20-4.

Other sources of information

  • The DEFRA website ( provides details of the recent reappraisal of rabies and quarantine regulations.