Diversity of currently circulating rabies virus strains in Croatia
Sylvatic rabies has been present in Croatia for more than three decades, with the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) as the main reservoir. The present epidemic of sylvatic rabies in Croatia started already in 1977 and in the past ten years the disease has become enzootic in the entire country and thus represents a considerable veterinary and public health threat. A genetic characterization and phylogenetic analysis of rabies virus isolates (RABV) from Croatia was performed using panel of 32 selected rabies-positive brain samples from domestic and wild animals collected between 2008 and 2010. Based on the comparison of 367-nucleotide sequences of a conserved region of the nucleoprotein (N) gene (nucleotides 75-441), the phylogenetic analysis revealed a low genetic diversity of currently circulating RABV strains in Croatia. 18 RABV isolates mainly originating from Eastern Croatia clustered with the formerly established Eastern European (EE) lineage, and the rest (14) were identical with the West European (WE) group. Both phylogenetic groups seem to coincide in central regions on both sides along the Save River. A high sequence identity in the N gene of the RABV isolates from neighbouring countries was found.