Ecology of arctic rabies: 60 years of disease surveillance in the warming climate of northern Canada.
Rabies occurs throughout the Arctic, representing an ongoing public health concern for residents of northern communities. The Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) is the main reservoir of the Arctic rabies virus variant, yet little is known about the epidemiology of Arctic rabies, such as the ecological mechanisms driving where and when epizootics in fox populations occur. In this study, we provide the first portrait of the spatio-temporal spread of rabies across northern Canada. We also explore the impact of seasonal and multiannual dynamics in Arctic fox populations and climatic factors on rabies transmission dynamics. We analysed data on rabies cases collected through passive surveillance systems in the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Nunavik and Labrador from 1953 to 2014. In addition, we analysed a large and unique database of trapped foxes tested for rabies in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut from 1974 to 1984 as part of active surveillance studies. Rabies cases occurred in all Arctic regions of Canada and were relatively synchronous among foxes and dogs (Canis familiaris). This study highlights the spread of Arctic rabies virus variant across northern Canada, with contrasting rabies dynamics between different yet connected areas. Population fluctuations of Arctic fox populations could drive rabies transmission dynamics in a complex way across northern Canada. Furthermore, this study suggests different impacts of climate and sea ice cover on the onset of rabies epizootics in northern Canada. These results lay the groundwork for the development of epidemiological models to better predict the spatio-temporal dynamics of rabies occurrence in both wild and domestic carnivores, leading to better estimates of human exposure and transmission risk.