There have been three major rabies epidemics in China since the 1950s. To gain more insights into the molecular epidemiology of rabies viruses (RVs) for the third (the current) epidemic, we isolated RV from dogs and humans in major endemic areas, and characterized these isolates genetically by sequencing the entire glycoprotein (G) gene and the G-L non-coding region. These sequences were also compared phylogenetically with RVs isolated in China during previous epidemics and those around the world. Comparison of the entire G genes among the Chinese isolates revealed up to 21.8% divergence at the nucleotide level and 17.8% at the amino acid level. The available Chinese isolates could be divided into two distinct clades, each of which could be further divided into six lineages. Viruses in clade I include most of the Chinese viruses as well as viruses from southeast Asian countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. The viruses in the other clade were found infrequently in China, but are closely related to viruses distributed worldwide among terrestrial animals. Interestingly, most of the viruses isolated during the past 10 years belong to lineage A viruses within clade I whereas most of the viruses isolated before 1996 belong to other lineages within clades I and II. Our results indicated that lineages A viruses have been predominant during the past 10 years and thus are largely responsible for the third and the current epidemic in China. Our results also suggested that the Chinese RV isolates in clade I share a common recent ancestor with those circulating in southeast Asia.
* Title and MeSH Headings from MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.