The emergence and re-emergence of new viral pathogens occurs periodically due to a lack of control measures, ecosystem disturbance, or changes in disease transmission, particularly cross-species transmission. This is true for RNA viruses in general and for the genus Lyssavirus – the causative agents of rabies – in particular. Rabies is an acute, progressive, incurable viral encephalitis. New variants of lyssaviruses periodically emerge in animal vector populations and therein challenge public health. There are currently 14 virus species in this genus, with all characterized members documented to infect mammals, including a broad range of livestock such as cattle, sheep, and horses. Human infection by rabies virus (RABV) alone is estimated to cause_55,000 deaths/year, and six other lyssavirus species have been reported to cause lethal rabies disease in humans. As the burden of rabies in many developing countries is underestimated, rabies represents a challenging global problem (a resurgence of the disease has occurred due to the lack of diagnosis, control, and knowledge of the dynamics of rabies in its major host, the dog), and concern by public health authorities.
The main objective of our unit is to study the biology and ecology of lyssavirus-host relationships and to improve the characterization of viruses involved in acute encephalitis. Our research program is also intimately connected with public health problems of interest for the National Reference Centre for Rabies (NCR-Rabies) and for the World Health Organization Collaborative Center for Research and Reference for Rabies (WHOCCRabies), both housed in the unit.