In 2001–2005 we sampled permanently marked big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) at summer roosts in buildings at Fort Collins, Colorado, for rabies virus neutralizing antibodies (RVNA). Seroprevalence was higher in adult females (17.9%, n = 2,332) than males (9.4%, n = 128; P = 0.007) or volant juveniles (10.2%, n = 738; P<0.0001). Seroprevalence was lowest in a drought year with local insecticide use and highest in the year with normal conditions, suggesting that environmental stress may suppress RVNA production in big brown bats. Seroprevalence also increased with age of bat, and varied from 6.2 to 26.7% among adult females at five roosts sampled each year for five years. Seroprevalence of adult females at 17 other roosts sampled for 1 to 4 years ranged from 0.0 to 47.1%. Using logistic regression, the only ranking model in our candidate set of explanatory variables for serological status at first sampling included year, day of season, and a year by day of season interaction that varied with relative drought conditions. The presence or absence of antibodies in individual bats showed temporal variability. Year alone provided the best model to explain the likelihood of adult female bats showing a transition to seronegative from a previously seropositive state. Day of the season was the only competitive model to explain the likelihood of a transition from seronegative to seropositive, which increased as the season progressed. We found no rabies viral RNA in oropharyngeal secretions of 261 seropositive bats or in organs of 13 euthanized seropositive bats. Survival of seropositive and seronegative bats did not differ. The presence of RVNA in serum of bats should not be interpreted as evidence for ongoing rabies infection.
Additional publication details
Variability in seroprevalence of rabies virus neutralizing antibodies and associated factors in a Colorado population of big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus)