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Mongoose Rabies

Author(s): C. O. R. Everard and J. D. Everard

Source: Reviews of Infectious Diseases, Vol. 10, Supplement 4. Research towards Rabies
Prevention (Nov. - Dec., 1988), pp. S610-S614
Published by: Oxford University Press
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? 1988 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0162-0886/88/1006-0008$02.00

Mongoose Rabies
C 0. R. Everard and J. D. Everard From the Medical Research Council, Leptospira Laboratory,
Bridgetown, Barbados

Mongooses are indigenous to Africa and Asia and have been introduced elsewhere. In
Cuba, Puerto Rico, Grenada, and South Africa they are the major reservoir and vector
of rabies. Elsewhere, sporadic cases of mongoose rabies are reported, but dog rabies can
mask their importance. Population density probably determines the importance of the
mongoose as a reservoir of rabies. In Grenada during a 4-year period, nearly 30% (and
in some areas >50%) of mongooses were found to have rabies serum neutralizing antibodies. The annual proportions of mongooses that were serum antibody-positive and
virus-positive, respectively, were inversely related. Natural immunity in mongooses prob-

ably lasts for life. In contrast with foxes, in mongooses immunity is an important factor
in the epizootiology of rabies. Inoculation of mongooses with Evelyn-Rokitnicki-Abelseth

(ERA) vaccine induced a good immunologic response and augurs well for the success
of vaccination in the field. The effects of wildlife vaccination on animal populations with
high levels of natural immunity need to be investigated before costly campaigns are started.

The Viverridae are a family of small- to mediumance [5]. The implications of this for the epidemiology36
of rabies are disturbing.
sized carnivores comprising civets, genets, and

species of mongoose. They are distributed throughout Asia and Africa and are the tropical equivalents
Mongooses as Hosts of Rabies
of the weasels and martens, which are found mainly
Mongooses are important reservoirs and vectors of
in cooler regions. One or another species of monrabies; where they are free of the disease, as in som
goose can be found in all types of habitat - dry scrub,
of the islands to which they were introduced, they
marsh, open forest, or thick jungle [1]. Introductions
are an incipient threat. The importance of the mon
of mongooses to various areas have also taken place.
In Europe the Egyptian mongoose (Herpestesgoose
ich- is seen in Grenada, an island with an area o

neumon) is found in southern Spain and Portugal,

120 square miles and a population of 101,000 peo

ple. Here Herpestes is the direct or indirect source

and the Indian grey mongoose (Herpestes edwardsi),
in southern Italy [2]. Probably the most widelyof
inthe majority of recorded cases of rabies and the

probable cause where the source is not known [6]

troduced species is the small Indian mongoose (HerIn the decade 1968-1977, there were 699 recorded
pestes auropunctatus), which was taken to Hawaii,
cases of rabies, mongooses accounting for 541
Fiji, many of the Caribbean islands, Guyana, French
(77%). One person died as a result of rabies, but the
Guiana, and Suriname in an attempt to rid sugar-

cane fields of rats and/or snakes. Reports that source

they of exposure was not known. All of the known
sources of livestock rabies on the island have been
are also found in Panama, Colombia, and Venezuela are unconfirmed [3]. On the South American
mongooses, rather than dogs or cats. Of those hu-

man exposures that necessitated antirabies treatment,

mainland, mongooses are generally limited to agricultural areas near the coast and are not likely
(57%) of 208 resulted directly from mongoose
extend their range into the interior rain forest orbites
past [6]. Between 1968 and 1984 there were 1,078

cases of rabies in Grenada, of which 73%o were in

swampy coastal areas [4]. However, as agricultural
clearing and other developments proceed along mongooses
(D. Murray, personal communication).
coast, mongooses are likely to follow. Once the range
Elsewhere in the Caribbean mongoose rabies occurs
has passed beyond the rain forest, the population
in Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and
is likely to expand to the limits of thermal endurpossibly Haiti [7, 8]. Table 1 shows that in Puerto
Rico and Grenada more cases of rabies are recorded

in mongooses than in all other species combined;

Please address requests for reprints to Dr. C. O. R. Everard,
in Cuba
Medical Research Council, Leptospira Laboratory, Enmore
No. 39%7 of all cases of rabies in 1983 were in
2, Lower Collymore Rock, Bridgetown, Barbados.
mongooses; and in the Dominican Republic only


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Location (square of rabies

[reference] miles) Year cases Mongooses Dogs Cats Livestock Other

Grenada [6] 120 1968-1977, 70 54 (77.1)* 3 (4.3) 1 (1.4) 11 (15.7) 1 (1.4)

annual mean

Puerto Rico [8] 3,459 1984 60 37 (61.7) 12 (20.0) 5 (8.3) 5 (8.3) 1 (1.7)
Cuba [7] 44,178 1983 131 51(38.9) 17 (13.0) 23 (17.6) 40 (30.5) . ..

Dominican Republict 19,322 1978-1982, 90 14 (15.6) 60 (66.7) 8 (8.9) 8 (8.9) . ..

annual mean

* Includes apparently healthy mongooses that were captured in a trapping program and found to be virus-positive by fluo
cent antibody microscopy.

t C. Vargas Leslie, personal communication.

16%7 of the cases of rabies were in mongooses tion

(C. is kept far below the threshold level for being
an effective vector of rabies [10]. In no area of Asia
Vargas, personal communication)-most recorded
do mongooses appear to be major sources of the
cases of rabies were in dogs. However, these data
cases of rabies, although sporadic cases have been
should be interpreted with caution. The relative imreported in Israel, India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thaiportance of dog and mongoose rabies reflects in part
land, and possibly elsewhere [7, 9]. In 1981 the Centhe diligence with which control of stray dogs and
tral Research Institute in Kasauli, India, reported 253
dog vaccination are carried out, urban leash laws are
cases of rabies, 143 of which were in dogs, three in
enforced, and rabid wildlife are reported. On islands
such as Grenada, where there are dense human and
cats, three in mongooses, one in a wild Canis species, 17 in farm animals, and two in other animals
mongoose populations and where mongooses are
semi-urbanized scavengers, cases of rabies in mon-[11]. It is difficult to assess these figures since the
totals do not tally. However, of 876 animals that were
gooses are frequently evident and often involve humans or domestic animals. In different circumstancessources of human exposure to rabies that necessi-

tated treatment, 819 were dogs, 18 were buffaloes,

rabid mongooses may not be so visible and those
and 17 were mongooses; the rest were smaller numthat are visible may be less likely to come to the atbers of cats and farm animals, and one was a montention of the authorities. Further, in Grenada the
key [11]. It seems that mongooses may be an imporinclusion in the number of rabies cases of apparently
healthy trapped mongooses that were found to tant
be source of wildlife rabies in that area.
rabies-positive by fluorescent antibody microscopy

biases the figure toward rabies in mongooses.

Transmission of Virus

Information reported to the World Health OrgaIn South Africa cases of rabies have been recorded
nization (WHO) concerning mongoose rabies in Asia
in mongoose species other than Cynictis, namely
and most parts of Africa is skimpy and unreliable.

Suricata suricatta, Herpestes sanguineus, Atilax

In Africa sporadic cases of mongoose rabies have
paludinosus, Herpestes pulverulentus, and Ichneubeen reported in northern Nigeria, Kenya, Zimmia albicauda [10]. Hinton and Dunn maintain that
babwe, Botswana, Namibia, and Ethiopia. The maCynictis is the preeminent vector of rabies in South
jor vectors in these regions are dogs or jackals [7,
Africa not because it is more susceptible than other
9]. However, mongooses are the principal reservoir
of rabies in most of South Africa and have been so

animals to the virus but because it lives in small colo-

since the 1920s, when rabies was first confirmed in nies that are close to each other, conditions that perthat country [10]. Rabies is enzootic in the Viverri- mit ready transmission of the virus from one colony
dae, principally in the yellow mongoose (Cynictis to another [1]. Herpestes, on the other hand, is an
penicillata). This species accounted for 69% of all essentially solitary species, yet the large proportion
rabies cases in South Africa between 1977 and 1981, of these animals in Grenada that have serum neuwhereas the Canis species accounted for 7%. Because tralizing antibodies suggests a high rate of in-

jackals are predators of sheep, the jackal popula- traspecific contact. It is therefore unlikely that

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It is not known whether the carrier

state that is
reported to exist in dogs [9] also exists
in mongooses.





mongooses positive examined positive

examined for rabies for SN for SN

Natural Immunity

Year for rabies (%c) antibodies antibodies (%)

Studies in Grenada showed that large proportions -

1971 1,742 61 (3.5) 149 31 (20.8)

1972 1,404 28 (2.0) 818 197 (24.1)
1973 780 6 (0.8) 546 200 (36.6)
1974 828 5 (0.6) 162 70 (43.2)

498 (29.7%) of 1,675 animals examined (range,

9%-55% in some areas)- of naturally infected mongooses can develop serum neutralizing antibodies to
rabies virus [6, 12]. The annual figures for serum neuNOTE. Data are from [12].
tralizing antibody-positive mongooses were inversely
proportional to the figures for virus-positive mongooses in the same year (see table 2), a finding that
gregariousness in mongooses is an important factor suggests immunity can build up in a population and
in the transmission of rabies. Meredith believes that inhibit the spread of rabies [6, 12]. The rabies cycle
the reason for the preeminence of Cynictis is its highwould then follow the sequence of high antibody/low

population density, which is determined by its low rabies prevalence-low antibody/high rabies prevahabitat specificity relative to other species [10]. Theselence, because after the dispersal or death of the imfactors are probably also responsible for the impor-mune individuals in the population there are more
tance of H. auropunctatus in the epizootiology ofsusceptible individuals available to promote a resur-

rabies in Grenada. Everard and Everard [6] state: gence of the disease. As an immune population

builds up, the cycle is repeated. This contrasts with

Grenadian mongooses have no natural enemies the cycle suggested for fox populations (in which
other than domestic dogs, possibly cats, and man.
probably <8% become immune) [13]; a large proporSince the mongoose pelt is of no commercial value,
tion of the population dies from rabies, a situation
the flesh is not eaten, and the animal is rarely hunted
leading to fewer opportunities for transmission of
for sport, man's predations are limited to occasional
the disease. This causes a drop in prevalence of racontrol campaigns. The few other small mammals,
including Didelphis opossums, cannot be consid- bies, but as the population builds up and contacts
ered serious competitors for the food available. increase, there is a resurgence of rabies. It is temptMongooses have adapted to the semi-urbanization ing to extrapolate the data from Grenada to derive
of their habitat, and they forage near human habi- the proportion of animals that needs to be immune

tations, even scavenging near dustbins and on rub- before rabies disappears from the population, even
bish heaps in urban areas. Their great adaptability, though extrapolation from four data groups is unfew parasites and pathogens, and their near omniv- wise; the figure is almost 60%. Conversely, 13.5%
orous habit mean that mongooses can build up very

dense populations.

of the mongoose population could become rabid if

none were developing antibodies during an epizootic

Mongoose density on Grenada has been found to peak [6, 12]. Further work is needed to test these hyvary from 1.0 to 5.1 per acre, with an overall mean potheses, since their implications for the control of
of 2.5. This may be near the carrying capacity ofrabies by vaccination are of paramount importance.
the land, and densities >3.0 per acre are probably Naturally acquired serum neutralizing antibodies
of short duration. In Trinidad, on the other hand, in mongooses were found to persist for up to 2.5 years
where rabies is present in bats but absent in mon- and possibly longer, a finding that implies immu-

gooses, a much lower population density was re- nity probably lasts for the lifetime of the animal [12].
corded (0.3-2.2 per acre, mean 0.8), with populationsWe have no information on levels of rabies serum
confined to the savannahs and flat agricultural areas. neutralizing antibodies in mongoose populations

It is possible that the lower population density inwhere only sporadic cases are reported. However,
Trinidad has kept mongooses free of rabies [6]. MacLean found serum neutralizing antibodies in sera
The titers of virus in salivary gland material fromfrom 2.6% of raccoons that were trapped in areas
eight naturally infected mongooses ranged fromreporting only sporadic cases of rabies; prevalence
undetectable (in three animals) to 105-6 MICLDsoof the antibody in raccoons collected from enzootic
(mouse intracerebral 50% lethal dose)/0.03 mL [12]. areas varied from 3% to 12%. Figures as high as 27%

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sibilities and should give
new impetus to the

epidemiologic study of mongoose
Several questions
must be answered
before costly

control campaigns
are started. Is vaccination

in areas where large proportions of the animal popu-

lations are already immune? Is vaccination likely to

Induced Immunity

be successful where cases of mongoose rabies are

sporadic and mongoose populations are of low den-

Seven mongooses with and seven without naturally sity? Should vaccination be undertaken during an
acquired rabies serum neutralizing antibodies were epizootic or when the disease is enzootic? How ofinoculated im in the thigh with 1.0 mL of ERAten should vaccination be repeated? Is it more feasi-

(Evelyn-Rokitnicki-Abelseth) vaccine [12]. All 14 ble (and desirable) to cull the population to a denmongooses showed a substantial increase in serumsity below the threshold level for harboring the

neutralizing antibodies after vaccination. Those with

disease than to vaccinate a sufficient number of

naturally acquired antibodies tended to show a animals in the wild to ensure that the proportion of
immune animals inhibits the transmission of rabies?
greater response than those without antibodies. The
highest antibody titer recorded was 1:34,800; most The alternatives of culling and vaccinating the anianimals had titers >1:1,100 1 month after vaccina- mal population are daunting prospects on an island
tion and maintained high titers for several months.where there may be more than three mongooses per

This ready immune response augurs well for the ef- acre and the terrain is often steep and rugged. It
should be remembered, however, that mongoose rafectiveness of vaccination in the field.
bies can put a considerable strain on a small island

economy and that, because of the large number of

Toward Control

animals per acre, Grenadians and their domestic

animals are at far greater risk from rabid mongooses

In the current climate of conservation, the eradica-

than are Europeans from rabid foxes [6].

tion or even the severe reduction of a species is an

inappropriate goal. In any case, the extermination

of the Caribbean mongoose has been impossible to
achieve, even on small islands, and effective control
of the animal population has been expensive, ardu1. Hinton HE, Dunn AMS. Mongooses. Their natural history
ous, and of short duration, with little lasting effect and behaviour. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1967

2. Chinery M. The natural history of Britain and Europe. Lonon the incidence of rabies [3, 6]. The object of popudon: Kingfisher Books, 1982
lation reduction is to inhibit the transmission of the

3. Nellis DW, Everard COR. The biology of the mongoose in

disease by reducing rates of animal contact. How- the Caribbean. Studies on the fauna of Curacao and other
ever, in the mongoose a high rate of transmission

Carribean Islands 1983;195:1-162

4. Husson AM. De zoogdieren van de Nederlandse Antillen.

produces high proportions of antibody-protected

animals; these animals also are removed by popula-

Utrecht: Foundation for Scientific Research in Surinam

and Netherlands Antilles, 1960

tion reduction. Since the replacement population

5. Nellis

DW, McManus JJ. Thermal tolerance of the mongoose,

consists largely of susceptible animals, control cam- Herpestes auropunctatus. Journal of Mammology 1974;
paigns may defeat their own purpose [6]. In the early 55:645-7
6. Everard COR, Everard JD. Mongoose rabies in Grenada. In:
1970s the development of an oral rabies vaccine for
Bacon PJ, ed. Population dynamics of rabies in wildlife.
wildlife looked promising, and the Medical Research

New York: Academic Press, 1985:43-69

Health Organization. World survey of rabies XXI (for

Council project in Grenada started to collect epi7. World

demiologic data relevant to the control of mongooses years 1982/83). Geneva: WHO, 1984
8. Centers for Disease Control. Rabies surveillance. Annual
by this method. Unfortunately, technical problems

encountered in producing an oral (or enteric) vac- summary- 1984. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services, 1985
cine for mongooses were insurmountable at that
9. Beran WB. Rabies and infections by rabies-related viruses.
time, and work on it ceased. Recent advances in ra- In: Steele JH, Beran WB, eds. CRC handbook series in

bies technology, especially in the development of ge- zoonoses. Viral zoonoses. Vol 2. Boca Raton, Fla: CRC
netically engineered vaccines, offer exciting new pos- Press, 1981

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