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Title: Quantifying effects of wild dogs, domestic dogs and humans on the spread of rabies in Australia
Contributor(s): Sparkes, Jessica Louise (author); Brown, Wendy  (supervisor)orcid ; Ballard, Guy  (supervisor)orcid ; Fleming, Peter  (supervisor); Koertner, Gerhard  (supervisor)orcid 
Conferred Date: 2016-10-22
Copyright Date: 2015-12
Open Access: Yes
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Related DOI: 10.1111/zph.12142

Rabies is a preventable viral zoonosis that causes inflammation of the brain, and eventually death, in infected mammals. With few exceptions, including Australia, terrestrial rabies can be found worldwide. More than 55,000 deaths from rabies infection are reported annually; these are mainly in Asia and Africa where the primary reservoir is the domestic dog.

Despite ongoing control efforts in Indonesia, canine rabies remains a disease of critical concern there. Although rabies is not endemic in Australia, at less than 300km away in Indonesia, a rabies incursion is a likely and imminent threat.

To improve preparedness for a canine rabies outbreak in Australia, I collected data on a number of extant dog populations in northern and eastern Australia. I used a range of methods including self-administered questionnaires, GPS telemetry collars, camera trapping and mark-recapture studies. Using my own data and parameters collected from the wider literature, I developed state-transition models to determine how rabies could spread through these dog populations. Finally, I used these same models to evaluate a range of control strategies, including dog removal and vaccination, to identify the most effective options for reducing impacts in Australian communities following a rabies incursion.

Model outputs suggested that rabies will progress differently within functionally different dog populations present within Australia. Restrained domestic dogs posed limited risk for rabies transmission, because interactions with other dogs were limited and generally supervised by owners. Free-roaming domestic and hunting dogs will likely play an important role in rabies transmission in some situations only, primarily based on their ability to roam, access to other free-roaming dogs and their interactions within and between dog groups. Wild dogs (including dingoes) proved the most critical type of dog for rabies spread and maintenance in Australia, because they are widely distributed, often in high abundance, roam over large distances and frequently interact.

I found that time to detection for rabies in wild dogs will likely be lengthy, probably due to low infection rates prior to an epidemic and limited contact with humans, relative to the other categories of dog that I studied. Further, the capacity of authorities to implement effective control strategies for wild dogs will likely be restricted because of limited access to individual animals. The economic costs of controlling a rabies outbreak involving wild dogs will be substantial and likely equivalent to the costs for extensive aerially-based wild dog control that are currently used in some areas of Australia (~Aus$34 km-2).

Australia’s current plans to address rabies incursions, which were developed in the 1990s are clearly outdated. My findings reveal that revision of these plans, taking specific account of relevant differences between restrained domestic dogs, free-roaming domestic dogs and extensive wild dog populations is necessary to ensure that Australia is adequately prepared for the arrival of canine rabies.

Publication Type: Thesis Doctoral
Fields of Research (FoR) 2008: 060801 Animal Behaviour
070704 Veterinary Epidemiology
070203 Animal Management
Fields of Research (FoR) 2020: 310901 Animal behaviour
300905 Veterinary epidemiology
300302 Animal management
Socio-Economic Objective (SEO) 2008: 960401 Border Biosecurity (incl. Quarantine and Inspection)
960405 Control of Pests, Diseases and Exotic Species at Regional or Larger Scales
920120 Zoonoses
Socio-Economic Objective (SEO) 2020: 189999 Other environmental management not elsewhere classified
HERDC Category Description: T2 Thesis - Doctorate by Research
Appears in Collections:School of Environmental and Rural Science
Thesis Doctoral

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