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Natural Rabies Infection in a Domestic Fowl (Gallus domesticus): A Report from India

Julie Baby, Reeta Subramaniam Mani, Swapna Susan Abraham, Asha T. Thankappan, Prasad Madhavan Pillai, Ashwini Manoor Anand, […view 2 more…], Sachin Sreekumar

Abstract

Background

Rabies is a fatal encephalitis caused by viruses belonging to the genus Lyssavirus of the family Rhabdoviridae. It is a viral disease primarily affecting mammals, though all warm blooded animals are susceptible. Experimental rabies virus infection in birds has been reported, but naturally occurring infection of birds has been documented very rarely.

Principal Findings

The carcass of a domestic fowl (Gallus domesticus), which had been bitten by a stray dog one month back, was brought to the rabies diagnostic laboratory. A necropsy was performed and the brain tissue obtained was subjected to laboratory tests for rabies. The brain tissue was positive for rabies viral antigens by fluorescent antibody test (FAT) confirming a diagnosis of rabies. Phylogenetic analysis based on nucleoprotein gene sequencing revealed that the rabies virus strain from the domestic fowl belonged to a distinct and relatively rare Indian subcontinent lineage.

Significance

This case of naturally acquired rabies infection in a bird species, Gallus domesticus, being reported for the first time in India, was identified from an area which has a significant stray dog population and is highly endemic for canine rabies. It indicates that spill over of infection even to an unusual host is possible in highly endemic areas. Lack of any clinical signs, and fewer opportunities for diagnostic laboratory testing of suspected rabies in birds, may be the reason for disease in these species being undiagnosed and probably under-reported. Butchering and handling of rabies virus- infected poultry may pose a potential exposure risk.

Rabies is a fatal viral disease affecting humans and other animals. Though all warm blooded animals are susceptible to this disease, rabies is commonly observed in mammals. Birds can be experimentally infected with this virus; however, naturally occurring rabies infection in birds has been reported very rarely. We report an unusual case of natural rabies infection in a domestic fowl from India. The bird was bitten by a stray dog and succumbed after a month. The brain tissue from the carcass was tested at a laboratory and was found to be positive for rabies virus antigens. This report indicates that rabies is a disease that can affect birds. Most often birds succumb due to shock or complication of animal bite injury and may not survive until the development of clinical signs of rabies infection. Moreover, fewer opportunities for diagnostic laboratory testing of suspected rabies in a bird may be a reason for the disease in these species being underestimated. Butchering and handling of virus-infected poultry may pose a potential biohazard.

Citation: Baby J, Mani RS, Abraham SS, Thankappan AT, Pillai PM, Anand AM, et al. (2015) Natural Rabies Infection in a Domestic Fowl (Gallus domesticus): A Report from India. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 9(7): e0003942. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0003942

Editor: Charles E. Rupprecht, The Global Alliance for Rabies Control, UNITED STATES

Received: March 16, 2015; Accepted: June 30, 2015; Published: July 22, 2015

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