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The Phylogeography and Spatiotemporal Spread of South-Central Skunk Rabies Virus
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    The south-central skunk rabies virus (SCSK) is the most broadly distributed terrestrial viral lineage in North America. Skunk rabies has not been efficiently targeted by oral vaccination campaigns and represents a natural system of pathogen invasion, yielding insights to rabies emergence. In the present study we reconstructed spatiotemporal spread of SCSK in the whole territory of its circulation using a combination of Bayesian methods. The analysis based on 241 glycoprotein gene sequences demonstrated that SCSK is much more divergent phylogenetically than was appreciated previously. According to our analyses the SCSK originated in the territory of Texas ~170 years ago, and spread geographically during the following decades. The wavefront velocity in the northward direction was significantly greater than in the eastward and westward directions. Rivers (except the Mississippi River and Rio Grande River) did not constitute significant barriers for epizootic spread, in contrast to deserts and mountains. The mean dispersal rate of skunk rabies was lower than that of the raccoon and fox rabies. Viral lineages circulate in their areas with limited evidence of geographic spread during decades. However, spatiotemporal reconstruction shows that after a long period of stability the dispersal rate and wavefront velocity of SCSK are increasing. Our results indicate that there is a need to develop control measures for SCSK, and suggest how such measure can be implemented most efficiently. Our approach can be extrapolated to other rabies reservoirs and used as a tool for investigation of epizootic patterns and planning interventions towards disease elimination.