Phylodynamics and Human-Mediated Dispersal of a Zoonotic Virus

Talbi C, Lemey P, Suchard MA, Abdelatif E, Elharrak M, Jalal N, Faouzi A, Echevarría JE, Morón SV, Rambaut A, Campiz N, Tatem AJ, Holmes EC & Bourhy H

(2010) PLoS Pathog 6, e1001166.

Understanding the role of humans in the dispersal of predominately animal pathogens is essential for their control. We used newly developed Bayesian phylogeographic methods to unravel the dynamics and determinants of the spread of dog rabies virus (RABV) in North Africa. Each of the countries studied exhibited largely disconnected spatial dynamics with major geo-political boundaries acting as barriers to gene flow. Road distances proved to be better predictors of the movement of dog RABV than accessibility or raw geographical distance, with occasional long distance and rapid spread within each of these countries. Using simulations that bridge phylodynamics and spatial epidemiology, we demonstrate that the contemporary viral distribution extends beyond that expected for RABV transmission in African dog populations. These results are strongly supportive of human-mediated dispersal, and demonstrate how an integrated phylogeographic approach will turn viral genetic data into a powerful asset for characterizing, predicting, and potentially controlling the spatial spread of pathogens.

Andrew Rambaut, 2007