Introduction: Rhabdoviridae

Of the more than 150 viruses associated with the Rhabdoviridae family, the rabies virus and vesicular stomatitis virus are the only human pathogens. The virion has a bullet-shaped morphology, and consists of a helically wound nucleocapsid surrounded by a lipid envelope with glycoprotein peplomers. The 11-12 kb genome is negative, single-sense RNA. Replication takes place in the cytoplasm of the host cell.

Rabies is transmitted by the bite or scratch of a rabid animal. The virus travels through the central nervous system and ultimately produces fatal encephalomyelitis. While rabies is usually lethal, disease onset may be prevented with a postexposure vaccination. Prophylactic immunization is also available for individuals who are at risk of contracting rabies through contact with animals during work or travel. The rabies vaccine, developed by Louis Pasteur in 1885 (see picture below), was the first infectious disease immunization available.

Public health measures in the United States have drastically reduced the incidence of rabies. At the turn of the century, more than 100 people were dying of rabies each year. In 1960 the majority of cases reported to the CDC still involved domestic animals. Today, only one or two rabies-related deaths occur each year, and more than 90% of animal cases take place in wildlife. In addition, prophylaxis is nearly 100% effective.

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