Increased detection of rabies virus in bats in Ceará State (Northeast Brazil) after implementation of a passive surveillance programme.
The intensification of dog, cat and livestock vaccination campaigns significantly reduced rabies cases in humans and domestic animals in Ceará State, Brazil. However, sylvatic animals - bats (order Chiroptera), wild canids, raccoons and non-human primates - remain as reservoirs for the virus. Our hypothesis is that surveillance and monitoring of rabies virus in bats, especially passive surveillance, is of fundamental importance, besides the implementation of health education and strengthening of surveillance actions in humans exposed to aggressions. Thus, we assessed the occurrence of rabies virus in animals focusing on bats, before and after launching of the Sylvatic Rabies Surveillance Program in 2010. Surveillance data from the 184 municipalities of Ceará State were analysed, collected during the periods 2003-2010 (active surveillance) and 2011-2016 (passive surveillance), respectively. A total of 13,543 mammalian samples were received for rabies diagnosis from 2003 to 2016. Of these, 10,960 were from dogs or cats (80.9%), 1,180 from bats (8.7%), 806 from other sylvatic animals (foxes, marmosets, raccoons; 6.0%) and 597 from herbivores (cattle, goats, sheep, equines, pigs; 4.4%). A total of 588 (4.3%) samples were positive for rabies. About 8.4% (99/1,180) of the bat samples were infected with rabies virus, 92 (92.9%) of these were from non-haematophagous bat species and 7 (7.1%) from haematophagous species. The number of bat samples received and infection rates increased considerably, after a shift from active surveillance (9/355 [2.5%] samples positive), to passive surveillance (90/825 [10.9%] samples positive). Surveillance of rabies virus in bats is fundamental for human and domestic animal health in Ceará State. Bats have to be considered as targets in surveillance and control programmes. Virus lineages should be characterized to increase knowledge on transmission dynamics of sylvatic rabies virus to domestic animals and the human population, and to provide additional evidence for planning and implementation of improved control measures.