This post was most recently updated on January 18th, 2020
Rabies is an infectious viral disease caused by Rabies virus. It affects humans as well as domestic and wild animals.
Rabies virus is an enveloped, single-stranded RNA virus with bullet- shaped or rod-shaped morphology. It is the member of the family Rhabdoviridae and the genus Lyssavirus.
Structure of Rabies virus
|Structure of Rabies virus|
Shape: Rabies virus is rod or bullet- shaped (75 x 180 nm); one end conical, other planar ( concave).
Envelope: Present. Virus envelope contains glycosylated G-protein spikes embedded in lipid membrane derived from the host cell. This envelope doesn’t cover the planar end.
Matrix (M) protein: Membrane or matrix (M) protein layear lies beneath the envelope. Virus nucleoprotein (N) which tightly binds the viral RNA to form the nucleocapsid core lies inside to matrix protein.
Viral genome: The core of the virion consists of helical RNP ( group specific antigen). Genome is unsegmented, linear, ss (-) sense RNA ( 12kb, MW 4.6 X 106) and the virion contain an RNA dependent RNA polymerase.
- survives at 4°C for weeks and at -70°C for years.
- Sensitive to ethanol, iodine- preparations, 40– NH4+ compounds, soap, detergents and lipid solvents (ether, chloroform, acetone).
- Inactivated by phenol, formalin, ß- propiolactone( BPL), UV or sunlight; thermal inactivation at 50°C in 1 hr, and at 60°C in 5 minute.
- Inactivated by CO2, so, for storage in dry ice, it should be sealed in glass vials.
- Attachment: Rabies virus attaches to host cells via its glycoprotein spikes; nicotinic acetylcholine receptor may serve as a cellular receptor (in neurons).
- Entry: Entry is by endocytosis.
- Replication and Assembly:
- Viral RNA polymerase transcribes viral genome into 5 mRNA species; the monocistronic mRNA species code for 5 virion proteins: nucleocapsid (N), polymerase proteins (L,P), matrix (M), and glycoprotein (G).
- Genome RNP is a template for complementary (+) sense RNA, which is responsible for a generation of (-) sense progeny RNA. Same viral protein serves at polymerase for viral RNA replication as well as transcription.
- newly replicated genomic RNA associates with viral transcriptase and nucleoprotein to form RNP cores in the cytoplasm; M- protein is important in packaging the RNA.
- Release: The newly formed virus particles acquire an envelope by budding through the plasma membrane.
- Rabies virus has a wide host range; all warm-blooded animals including human can be infected. Susceptibility varies; high (fox, wolves, bats, cats), to moderate ( dogs, sheep) to low ( opossums).
- Virus is widely distributed in the nervous system, saliva, urine, lymph, milk and blood of infected animals.
- When freshly isolated in lab, strains are referred to as “ street virus”; these cause fatal encephalitis in lab animals following inoculation by any route, after a long and variable incubation period ( 1-12 weeks) and regularly produce intracytoplasmic inclusion bodies (Negri bodies).
- Serial brain to brain passage in rabbits of the street virus yields a fixed virus that no longer multiplies in extraneural tissues; after intracerebral inoculation, it produce fatal encephalitis after a short and fixed incubation period of 6.7 days; negri bodies usually not demonstrable.
There is a single serotype of rabies virus; however there are strain differences among viruses isolated from different species.
- substitution at amino acid position 333 of gp results in loss of virulence, where Arg has replaced Gln or Ile in the more pathogenic variant.
- purified spikes containing viral gp elict neutralizing( protective) antibody; thus provide a safe and effective subunit vaccine.
- antiserum prepared against purified nucleocapsid Ag used in diagnostic IFT, the antibody is not protective and are group specific.
- virus possesses haemagglutinating activity ( property of gp spike), optimally seen with goose erythrocytes at 0-4°C and PH 6.2.
- GP spikes are inactivated by heat ( 56°C for 30-60 min), ether, trypsin, deoxycholate or Tween 80, but not by BPL.
- Inhalation while in bat- infested cave
- aerosols released during centrifugation of infected materials in the lab
- Ingestion of flesh of rabid animals (high dose would be necessary)
- hosts age, genetic background and immune status;
- viral strain involved,
- amount of inoculum,
- the severity of laceration, and
- the distance between point of entry and CNS
- short prodrome.
- acute neurologic (encephalitic) phase
- coma / death
prodrome lasting 2-10 days may show malaise, anorexia, headache, photophobia, nausea and vomiting, sore throat, fever; there is profound sense of apprehension, anxiety, agitation, irritability, insomnia or depression.
During the acute neurologic phase( 2-7 days), there are signs of nervous system dysfunction which begins with hyperactivity → bouts of bizarre behaviour, agitation or seizures.
• pathognomic feature is difficulty in drinking, together with intense thirst; attempts to drinking may bring painful spasms of pharynx / larynx producing choking and gagging, patients develop a dread of even the sight or sound of water ( hydrophobia).
• generalized convulsions follow death occurs with in 1-6 days due to respiratory arrest during convulsion.
- Rabies may present as:
- furious rabies: predominantly encephalitic disease with neurologic dysfunction.
- dumb rabies: paralytic illness; with symmetrical ascending paralysis followed by coma and death, occurs in about 20% patients.