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General Information

There are more than 180 different viruses in the family Rhabdoviridae (The word rhabdo is Greek for rod). Members of this viral family, which belongs to the order Mononegavirales, have single-stranded, negative sense RNA genomes, and are all both helical and enveloped. The viruses also have a unique elongated, rod-like, or bullet-shaped appearance.

There are 3 genera in the Rhabdoviridae family. Two of these genera, Vesiculoviruses and Lyssaviruses, infect humans, while the third genus, Ephemeroviruses, is only known to infect animals.


The most notorious virus of the Rhabdoviridae family is the Rabies (Latin for fury, madness1) virus. Rabies is a member of the genus Lyssaviruses and is capable of infecting any mammal, giving it one of the largest host ranges of any virus 2. This is because the rabies virus can use the acetylcholine receptor, which is one of the most evolutionarily conserved proteins and used by all mammals, as a receptor for viral cell entry3,4. The use of this receptor also explains the neurotropism (targeting of the nervous system) of the virus - the acetylcholine receptor is found on neurons4.


Rabies is the most lethal of all human infectious diseases, with a mortality rate of nearly 100% in untreated cases5. In fact, there have been only 6 known cases of human recovery from rabies infection6. Transmission of the virus is generally dependent on vertebrate biting7, although a few cases of transmission due to organ transplantation have been reported9. The incubation period can be extremely long, ranging from days to years. Clinically, rabies causes viral encephalitis and myelitis in humans. Initial symptoms of infection include malaise, fever, or headache, which can last several days2. Within days, infection progresses dramatically, with symptoms ranging from hyperactivity (also known as furious rabies) to paralysis (dumb rabies). Both furious and dumb rabies develop into complete paralysis, ultimately leading to coma, and then death. Once the clinical symptoms appear, the disease is nearly always fatal, with death usually occurring within the first seven days of the appearance of symptoms without intensive care7, 8 .

Fortunately, both pre-exposure and post-exposure prophylaxeis exist. Pre-prophylaxis consists of a rabies vaccine, which unlike the name suggests, does not protect against rabies infection but rather reduces the post-exposure prophylaxis that one receives following infection. Because the incubation period for rabies is so long, and the virus is slow moving once in the nervous system, it is possible to vaccinate someone against the virus after they have been exposed. This is the procedure for post-exposure prophylaxis. In the case that the patient has not been vaccinated previously, they must also receive immunoglobulin2.

Vesicular Stomatitis Virus

Another important member of the Rhabdoviridae family is Vesicular Stomatitis Virus (VSV). Although VSV is usually asymptomatic in humans, it sometimes causes acute febrile disease. The virus is a zoonosis, meaning humans are only infected by animals, and not other humans7. The two most common serotypes found in the Americas are VSV-I and VSV-NJ (named for Indiana and New Jersey, respectively, where the viruses were initially isolated7.

VSV was also important to the study of molecular biology. In 1975, David Baltimore won the nobel prize for the discovery of RNA dependent RNA polymerase in VSV10.