A molecular epidemiological study of 48 recent rabies isolates recovered from cases reported throughout Iran identified three distinct viral variants, the evolutionary origins of which were identified by phylogenetic comparison with rabies viruses originating from Europe and Asia. Members of group 1 (15 isolates) were recovered from the northern half of the country only, while those of group 2 (31 isolates) were widely dispersed; both groups clustered within the widely disseminated cosmopolitan lineage. The two isolates of group 3 were detected in the northeastern tip of the country only and belonged to the Arctic strain. Rapid variant discrimination tools, employing restriction fragment length polymorphisms applied to amplified fragments of the viral genome, were devised whilst antigenic characterization of representative viruses identified a small panel of monoclonal antibodies that were also discriminatory. The future application of such methods should provide valuable epidemiological information on rabies incidence in Iran.
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