Rabies Outbreak in Captive Big Brown Bats (Eptesicus fuscus) Used in a White-nose Syndrome Vaccine Trial

Rachel C. Abbott
Lenore Saindon
Elizabeth A. Falendysz

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An outbreak of rabies occurred in a captive colony of wild-caught big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus). Five of 27 bats exhibited signs of rabies virus infection 22–51 d after capture or 18–22 d after contact with the index case. Rabid bats showed weight loss, aggression, increased vocalization, hypersalivation, and refusal of food. Antigenic typing and virus sequencing confirmed that all five bats were infected with an identical rabies virus variant that circulates in E. fuscus in the US. Two bats with no signs of rabies virus infection were seropositive for rabies virus-neutralizing antibodies; the brains of these bats had no detectable viral proteins by the direct fluorescence antibody test. We suspect bat-to-bat transmission of rabies virus occurred among our bats because all rabies-infected bats were confined to the cage housing the index case and were infected with viruses having identical sequences of the entire rabies nucleoprotein gene. This outbreak illustrates the risk of rabies virus infection in captive bats and highlights the need for researchers using bats to assume that all wild bats could be infected with rabies virus.