Rabies virus and canine distemper virus in wild and domestic carnivores in Northern Kenya: Are domestic dogs the reservoir?

K. C. Prager, Jonna A Mazet, Edward J. Dubovi, Laurence G. Frank, Linda Munson, Aaron P. Wagner, Rosie Woodroffe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Rabies virus (RV) and canine distemper virus (CDV) can cause significant mortality in wild carnivore populations, and RV threatens human lives. We investigated serological patterns of exposure to CDV and RV in domestic dogs (Canis familiaris), African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus), black-backed jackals (Canis mesomelas), spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta), striped hyenas (Hyaena hyaena) and African lions (Panthera leo), over a 10-year period, in a Kenyan rangeland to assess the role domestic dogs may play in the transmission dynamics of these two important canid pathogens. Observed patterns of RV exposure suggested that repeated introduction, rather than maintenance, occurred in the wild carnivore species studied. However, RV appeared to have been maintained in domestic dogs: exposure was more likely in domestic dogs than in the wild carnivores; was detected consistently over time without variation among years; and was detected in juveniles (≤1-year-old) as well as adults (>1-year-old). We conclude that this domestic dog population could be a RV reservoir. By contrast, the absence of evidence of CDV exposure for each carnivore species examined in the study area, for specific years, suggested repeated introduction, rather than maintenance, and that CDV may require a larger reservoir population than RV. This reservoir could be a larger domestic dog population; another wildlife species; or a "metareservoir" consisting of multiple interconnected carnivore populations. Our findings suggest that RV risks to people and wild carnivores might be controlled by domestic dog vaccination, but that CDV control, if required, would need to target the species of concern.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)483-498
Number of pages16
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2012


  • canine distemper virus
  • disease dynamics
  • domestic dog
  • pathogen reservoir
  • rabies virus
  • wild African carnivore

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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