In South Africa, canid rabies virus (RABV) infection is maintained in domestic and wildlife species. The identification of rabies in African civets raised the question of whether this wildlife carnivore is a potential reservoir host of RABVs of direct and ancestral dog origin (dog-maintained and dog-derived origins) with an independent cycle of transmission. Genetic analyses of African civet nucleoprotein sequences for 23 African civet RABVs and historically published sequences demonstrated that RABVs from African civets have two origins related to dog and mongoose rabies enzootics. The data support observations of the interaction of civets with domestic dogs and wildlife mongooses, mostly in Northern South Africa and North-East Zimbabwe. Within each host species clade, African civet RABVs group exclusively together, implying intra-species virus transfer occurs readily. The canid RABV clade appears to support virus transfer more readily between hosts than mongoose RABVs. Furthermore, these data probably indicate short transmission chains with conspecifics that may be related to transient rabies maintenance in African civets. Hence, it is important to continue monitoring the emergence of lyssaviruses in this host. Observations from this study are supported by ongoing and independent similar cases, in which bat-eared foxes and black-backed jackal species maintain independent rabies cycles of what were once dog-maintained RABVs.
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