Dynamics and persistence of rabies in the Arctic

  • Audrey Simon Research Group on Epidemiology of Zoonoses and Public Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Montreal
  • Olivia Tardy Research Group on Epidemiology of Zoonoses and Public Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Montreal
  • Amy Hurford Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Nicolas Lecomte Canada Research Chair in Polar and Boreal Ecology, Department of Biology, University of Moncton
  • Denise Bélanger Research Group on Epidemiology of Zoonoses and Public Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Montreal
  • Patrick Leighton Research Group on Epidemiology of Zoonoses and Public Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Montreal
Keywords: Vulpes lagopus, epidemiological model, Arctic rabies, virus transmission, public health, climate change

Abstract

Rabies is a major issue for human and animal health in the Arctic, yet little is known about its epidemiology. In particular, there is an ongoing debate regarding how Arctic rabies persists in its primary reservoir host, the Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus), which exists in the ecosystem at very low population densities. To shed light on the mechanisms of rabies persistence in the Arctic, we built a susceptible–exposed–infectious–recovered (SEIR) epidemiological model of rabies virus transmission in an Arctic fox population interacting with red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), a rabies host that is increasingly present in the Arctic. The model suggests that rabies cannot be maintained in resource-poor areas of the Arctic, characterized by low Arctic fox density, even in the presence of continuous reintroduction of the virus by infected Arctic foxes from neighbouring regions. However, in populations of relatively high Arctic fox density, rabies persists under conditions of higher transmission rate, prolonged infectious period and for a broad range of incubation periods. Introducing the strong cyclical dynamics of Arctic prey availability makes simulated rabies outbreaks less regular but more intense, with an onset that does not neatly track peaks in Arctic fox density. Finally, interaction between Arctic and red foxes increases the frequency and/or the intensity of rabies outbreaks in the Arctic fox population. Our work suggests that disruption of prey cycles and increasing interactions between Arctic and red foxes due to climate change and northern development may significantly change the epidemiology of rabies across the Arctic.

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Published
2019-06-05
How to Cite
Simon, A., Tardy, O., Hurford, A., Lecomte, N., Bélanger, D., & Leighton, P. (2019). Dynamics and persistence of rabies in the Arctic. Polar Research, 38. https://doi.org/10.33265/polar.v38.3366
Section
Research Articles