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Reservoir dynamics of rabies in Southeast Tanzania and the roles of cross-species transmission and domestic dog vaccination


Lushasi, Kennedy et al. (2021), Reservoir dynamics of rabies in Southeast Tanzania and the roles of cross-species transmission and domestic dog vaccination, Dryad, Dataset,


Understanding the role of different species in the transmission of multi-host pathogens, such as rabies virus, is vital for effective control strategies. Across most of sub-Saharan Africa domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) are considered the reservoir for rabies, but the role of wildlife has been long debated. Here we explore the multi-host transmission dynamics of rabies across southeast Tanzania.

Between January 2011 and July 2019 data on probable rabies cases were collected in the regions of Lindi and Mtwara. Hospital records of animal-bite patients presenting to healthcare facilities were used as sentinels for animal contact tracing. The timing, location and species of probable rabid animals was used to reconstruct transmission trees to infer who infected whom and the relative frequencies of within- and between-species transmission.

During the study, 688 probable human rabies exposures were identified, resulting in 47 deaths. Of these exposures, 389 were from domestic dogs (56.5%) and 262 from jackals (38.1%). Over the same period 549 probable animal rabies cases were traced: 303 in domestic dogs (55.2%) and 221 in jackals (40.3%).

Although dog-to-dog transmission was most commonly inferred (40.5% of transmission events), a third of inferred events involved wildlife-to-wildlife transmission (32.6%) and evidence suggested some sustained transmission chains within jackal populations.

A steady decline in probable rabies cases in both humans and animals coincided with the implementation of widespread domestic dog vaccination during the first six years of the study. Following the lapse of this programme dog rabies cases began to increase in one of the northernmost districts.

Synthesis and applications: In southeast Tanzania, despite a relatively high incidence of rabies in wildlife and evidence of wildlife-to-wildlife transmission, domestic dogs remain essential to the reservoir of infection. Continued dog vaccination alongside improved surveillance would allow a fuller understanding of the role of wildlife in maintaining transmission in this area. Nonetheless, dog vaccination clearly suppressed rabies in both domestic dog and wildlife populations, reducing both public health and conservation risks and, if sustained, has potential to eliminate rabies from this region.


This dataset contains code and data to reproduce the analyses in the paper, however sensitive data (GPS locations and other identifiers) have been removed. Full methods are detailed in the paper.

Usage Notes

All data files are in CSV format and analysis files are provided as R scripts. Identifying features such as names and GPS coordinates have been removed. See README for more information.


Wellcome Trust, Award: 207569/Z/17/Z

Wellcome Trust, Award: 095787/Z/11/Z

Wellcome Trust, Award: 107753/A/15/Z

DELTAS Africa Initiative, Award: Afrique One-ASPIRE/DEL-15-008

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Award: Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet Doctoral Training Partnership grant to Imperial College London

MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, Award: MR/R015600/1

National Institute for Health Research Health Protection Research Unit in Emerging and Zoonotic Infections, with Public Health England , Award: HPRU200907

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

DELTAS Africa Initiative, Award: Afrique One-ASPIRE/DEL-15-008

MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, Award: MR/R015600/1