Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Introduction and establishment of raccoon rabies on islands: Jekyll Island, Georgia, USA as a case study.

Abstract

The introduction of rabies virus (RABV) to barrier islands, which are often popular tourist destinations with resource-rich habitats and connectivity and proximity to the mainland, is especially concerning because it can easily become endemic due to factors like dense rabies-vector populations (e.g., raccoons [Procyon lotor]), high inter- and intraspecies contact rates, and anthropogenic activities such as supplemental feeding of feral cats (Felis catus). In January 2013, a neurologic raccoon found on the Jekyll Island (JI), Georgia, US causeway tested positive for rabies. Mortality investigations of 29 raccoons have been conducted between December 2012-May 2017. The two most common diagnoses were RABV (n=11) and canine distemper virus (CDV; n=8). Parvoviral enteritis was diagnosed in four raccoons but no coinfections were diagnosed. There was no apparent seasonality for rabies cases, but all CDV cases occurred in spring-fall. Most (64%) rabies submissions came from residential or recreational use areas located near feral cat feeding stations. Jekyll Island is a popular destination where tourists engage in numerous outdoor activities which facilitate human-wildlife interactions. Concerns regarding public and animal health highlight the importance of rabies surveillance, prevention, and control on islands. This is the first report of rabies on JI and emphasizes the importance of disease investigations because the assumption that neurologic raccoons have CDV, an endemic pathogen, can miss the establishment of novel pathogens such as RABV.