According to the Control of Communicable Diseases Manual, all mammals are susceptible to rabies. Raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats, dogs, coyotes and cats are the likely suspects. Other animals like otters and ferrets are also high risk. Mammals like rabbits, squirrels, rodents and opossums are rarely infected.

Public domain image/Ben Rudiak-Gould
Public domain image/Ben Rudiak-Gould

No mention of birds.

Now, Indian researchers have reported the first case of rabies in a domestic fowl, a chicken, in the country, according to a study published in the journal, PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

The authors note that experimental rabies virus infection in birds has been reported, but naturally occurring infection of birds has been documented very rarely.  A few anecdotal reports were published in the late 1950’s, indicating the rare occurrence of rabies in birds; however, they remain uncorroborated by lack of additional reports with robust laboratory evidence of naturally acquired rabies in birds.

The chicken (Gallus domesticus), was bitten by a stray dog and died a month later. It’s carcass was sent to the rabies diagnostic laboratory. The brain tissue was positive for rabies viral antigens by fluorescent antibody test (FAT) confirming a diagnosis of rabies. Additional analysis revealed that the rabies virus strain from the domestic fowl belonged to a distinct and relatively rare Indian subcontinent lineage.

The authors say the significance of this finding indicates that spill over of infection even to an unusual host is possible in highly endemic areas. In addition, butchering and handling of rabies virus- infected poultry may pose a potential exposure risk.

Researchers conclude the present report indicates that rabies is a disease that can affect birds. Lack of obvious clinical signs and fewer opportunities for diagnostic laboratory testing of suspected rabies in a bird, may be the reason for the disease in these species being undiagnosed and probably underestimated.


Robert Herriman is a microbiologist and the Editor-in-Chief of Outbreak News Today and the Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch

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