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Epidemiologic Notes and Reports Rabies in a Javelina -- Arizona

On March 1, 1986, a 47-year-old woman and her husband were hunting javelina (collared peccary, Pecari angulatus, a pig-like mammal) near the Superstition Mountains, east of Phoenix, Arizona. The woman saw a javelina "chasing its tail"; she was subsequently attacked and bitten by the animal on her left upper thigh. Her husband shot the animal to dislodge it from her thigh. The bite resulted in a jagged 3H inch wound, and the woman was treated at a local hospital. The animal was diagnosed as rabid by the direct immunofluorescent antibody test on a brain specimen, from which rabies virus was also isolated. The woman received rabies postexposure prophylaxis. Reported by M Hetrick, H Goodman, MD, Gila County Dept of Health, M Wright, D Woodall, R Cheshire, J Doll, PhD, SJ Englender, MD, LF Novick, MD, C Levy, GG Caldwell, MD, State Epidemiologist, Arizona Dept of Health Svcs; Viral and Rickettsial Zoonoses Br, Div of Viral Diseases, Center for Infectious Diseases, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: This is the first report of rabies in a javelina. Bites by javelina are most likely to occur while the animals are being sought as game. Javelina are found south of 35 N latitude in parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, most of Central America except for central Mexico, and south to Colombia.

Almost all wildlife rabies in the United States occurs among skunk, raccoon, bat, and fox species (in decreasing frequency of reported cases); however, the disease is occasionally found in an unexpected host. The origin of rabies in these animals can be investigated by typing the virus with a panel of monoclonal antibodies (mabs) to nucleocapsid proteins (1).

On the basis of nucleocapsid reactivity with a panel of mabs, five antigenically distinct groups of rabies viruses can be formed from isolates collected from the major terrestrial wildlife rabies enzootic areas of the United States (Figure 1). These five antigenically distinct groups comprise isolates collected from: (1) skunk rabies areas of California and the north central United States and gray fox rabies areas of central Texas; (2) skunk rabies areas of the south central United States; (3) raccoon rabies areas of the mid-Atlantic and southeastern United States; (4) red fox rabies areas of the northeast United States; and (5) gray fox rabies areas of Arizona.

There are two separate enzootic hosts for rabies in Arizona, the striped skunk and the gray fox. Virus isolates from these two species can easily be distinguished with mabs. Rabies virus from the javelina was identical to that found in rabid gray foxes in Arizona, suggesting that the infection in the javelina was the result of spillover from enzootic disease in foxes. The reaction pattern found in virus isolates from foxes in Arizona is unique among over 300 rabies isolates collected from terrestrial mammals elsewhere in the United States. Moreover, the virus strains in foxes and skunks in Arizona are different from each other, even when infected animals of both species are found in the same area. Fox virus isolates from Texas also differ in their reactivity pattern from skunks in Texas, even when isolates from both species are collected in the same county. This observation is unique to Arizona and Texas.

Rabies laboratories are encouraged to submit for monoclonal antibody typing brain specimens from rabies cases that occur unexpectedly in a new species or area. Such specimens should be submitted through state health departments to CDC.

This case emphasizes the importance of assessing every mammal bite individually for the possibility of rabies. After the bite of a wild animal, the decision to administer postexposure rabies prophylaxis is based on the results of fluorescent antibody examination of the animal brain, the status of rabies activity in the area where the bite occurred, and the species of biting animal.


  1. Smith JS, Sumner JW, Roumillat LF, Baer GM, Winkler WG. Antigenic characteristics of isolates associated with a new epizootic of raccoon rabies in the United States. J Infect Dis 1984;149:769-74.

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