Taxonomically, rabies viruses belong to the Rhabdoviridae family, a constituent of the Order Mononegavirales, in which the viruses are characterised by a non-segmented, negative sense RNA genome with a bullet shaped morphology.
The family is divided into two serologically distinct genera, Vesiculovirus and Lyssavirus. The Vesiculovirus genus includes the viruses causing vesicular stomatitis and antigenically related viruses and the Lyssavirus genus includes the rabies and the rabies-related viruses and others viruses which share only a distant relationship to rabies.
By use of serological and molecular techniques, four Lyssavirus serotypes encompassing seven genotypes are currently recognised in the genus Lyssavirus. The distinction between viruses of serotype/genotype 1 (rabies), sero-type/genotype 2 (Lagos bat), serotype/genotype 3 (Mokola) and serotype/genotype 4 (Duvenhage) was established by cross-immunisation experiments in animals. All of these serotype/genotype viruses have been isolated within Sub-Saharan Africa that includes the SEARG region.
In addition, two distinct groups of the European bat lyssavirus (EBLs), detected by monoclonal antibody anti-nucleocapsid (Mab-N) reaction patterns, have been confirmed by molecular techniques and are now known as EBLV-1 (genotype5) and EBLV-2 (genotype 6). Genotype 7 has been isolated in Australian bats (ABLV ).
The antigenic variation within African lyssaviruses has two main implications:
|Species name||Source(s) of virus in nature||Known geographic distribution|
|Rabies||Dog, cat, bat; wild carnivore, e.g. red fox, grey fox, bat-eared fox, skunk, raccoon, jackal, mongoose||Worldwide except Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica, parts of Scandinavia, United Kingdom, several western European countries (Belgium, France, Luxemburg, Switzerland), Japan, Hawaii and some other islands|
|Lagos bat||Frugivorous bat, cat, dog||Nigeria, Ethiopia, Senegal, Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, South Africa|
|Mokola||Shrew, cat, dog, rodent||Nigeria, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, South Africa|
|Duvenhage||Insectivorous bat||Zimbabwe, South Africa|
|European bat Lyssavirus1||Insectivorous bat (chiefly serotines)||Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Netherlands, Denmark, France, Spain|
|European bat Lyssavirus2||Insectivorous bat (Myotis spp.)||Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, Finland, United Kingdom|
|Australian bat Lyssavirus||Frugivorous bats (Pteropus spp.) and insectivorous bats||Australia|
|Shimoni bat virus=SHIBV putative member||Insectivorous bat (Hipposideros commersoni)||Kenya|
Data adapted and updated from King and Crick (1988).