Revealing the complexity of vampire bat rabies “spillover transmission”


Background The term virus ‘spillover’ embodies a highly complex phenomenon and is often used to refer to viral transmission from a primary reservoir host to a new, naïve yet susceptible and permissive host species. Spillover transmission can result in a virus becoming pathogenic, causing disease and death to the new host if successful infection and transmission takes place.

            Main text
            The scientific literature across diverse disciplines has used the terms virus spillover, spillover transmission, cross-species transmission, and host shift almost indistinctly to imply the complex process of establishment of a virus from an original host (source/donor) to a naïve host (recipient), which have close or distant taxonomic or evolutionary ties. Spillover transmission may result in unsuccessful onward transmission, if the virus dies off before propagation. Alternatively, successful viral establishment in the new host can occur if subsequent secondary transmission among individuals of the same novel species and among other sympatric susceptible species occurred. As such, virus spillover transmission is a common yet highly complex phenomenon that encompasses multiple subtle stages that can be deconstructed to be studied separately to better understand the drivers of disease emergence. Rabies virus (RABV) is a well-documented viral pathogen which still inflicts heavy impact on humans, companion animals, wildlife, and livestock throughout Latin America due substantial spatial temporal and ecological—natural and expansional—overlap with several virus reservoir hosts. Thereby, the rabies disease system represents a robust avenue through which the drivers and uncertainties surrounding spillover transmission can be unravel at its different subtle stages to better understand how they may be affected by coarse, medium, and fine scale variables.

            The continued study of viral spillover transmission necessitates the elucidation of its complexities to better assess the cross-scale impacts of ecological forces linked to the propensity of spillover success. Improving capacities to reconstruct and predict spillover transmission would prevent public health impacts on those most at risk populations across the globe.




Infectious Diseases of Poverty. 2023 Feb 13;12(1):10