Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats
RESEARCH ARTICLE

The use of immunocontraception to improve rabies eradication in urban dog populations

Matthew J. Carroll A D , Alexander Singer B C , Graham C. Smith B , Dave P. Cowan B and Giovanna Massei B

A Department of Biology (Area 18), University of York, Wentworth Way, Heslington YO10 5DD, United Kingdom.

B Food and Environment Research Agency, Sand Hutton, York YO41 1LZ, United Kingdom.

C Present address: Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, Department of Ecological Modelling, Permoserstraße 15, 04318 Leipzig, Germany.

D Corresponding author. Email: mjc510@york.ac.uk

Wildlife Research 37(8) 676-687 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR10027
Submitted: 16 February 2010  Accepted: 2 October 2010   Published: 22 December 2010

Abstract

Context: Rabies causes ~55 000 human deaths each year, primarily as a result of bites from dogs, which are the major rabies reservoir in the developing world. Current rabies control strategies include vaccination, culling and surgical sterilisation of dogs. However, recently developed immunocontraceptives could be used alongside vaccination to apply fertility control to more animals.

Aims: We used a modelling approach to explore (1) whether adding single-dose contraceptives to rabies vaccination would improve effectiveness of rabies eradication, (2) how sensitive control methods are to variation in population parameters and (3) the effects of applying control continuously or in pulses on rabies eradication.

Methods: A continuous time, compartmental model was created to describe canine rabies epidemiology. Parameters were derived from the literature. The following three control methods were applied at varying rates and durations: vaccination, vaccination plus fertility control (v + fc) and culling. Outcomes were classified into the following three categories: rabies persistence, rabies eradication and population extinction.

Key results: When control was applied continuously for up to 24 months, vaccination was least effective; the effort required to eradicate rabies was about twice that required with culling or v + fc. At realistic control rates, only v + fc consistently resulted in rabies eradication. Increasing population growth rate and city size made rabies eradication harder; for vaccination, considerably greater control rates and durations were required, whereas culling and v + fc showed only minor decreases in effectiveness. When control was applied for 1 or 2 months (for one month every 12 months or every 6 months) per year for up to 20 years, vaccination became less effective because of population turnover between control periods; v + fc lost little effectiveness, as decreased birth rates reduced the input of susceptible animals.

Conclusions: Using immunocontraception alongside vaccination could improve rabies control campaigns by reducing the proportion of the population that must be treated, or reducing the necessary duration of the campaign. It could also make control effective under larger population growths, in larger cities and when control is pulsed.

Implications: Immunocontraceptives could become a useful tool in canine rabies control by allowing fertility control to be applied on a large scale. Further work is required to improve understanding of dog ecology and parameterise location-specific models, which could be used to inform management plans.


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