Could a rabies incursion spread in the northern Australian Dingo population? Development of a spatial stochastic simulation model

Vanessa Gabriele-Rivet, Michael P. Ward, Julie Arsenault, David London, Victoria J. Brookes

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1 Citation (Scopus)
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Australia, home to the iconic dingo, is currently free from canine rabies. However northern Australia, including Indigenous communities with large free-roaming domestic dog populations, is at increased risk of rabies incursion from nearby Indonesia. We developed a novel agent-based stochastic spatial rabies spread model to evaluate the potential spread of rabies within the dingo population of the Northern Peninsula Area (NPA) region of northern Australia. The model incorporated spatio-temporal features specific to this host-environment system, including landscape heterogeneity, demographic fluctuations, dispersal movements and dingo ecological parameters—such as home range size and density— derived from NPA field studies. Rabies spread between dingo packs in nearly 60% of simulations. In such situations rabies would affect a median of 22 dingoes (approximately 14% of the population; 2.5–97.5 percentiles: 2–101 dingoes) within the study area which covered 1,131 km2, and spread 0.52 km/week for 191 days. Larger outbreaks occurred in scenarios in which an incursion was introduced during the dry season (vs. wet season), and close to communities (vs. areas with high risk of interaction between dingoes and hunting community dogs). Sensitivity analyses revealed that home range size and duration of infectious clinical period contributed most to the variance of outputs. Although conditions in the NPA would most likely not support a sustained propagation of the disease in the dingo population, due to the predicted number of infected dingoes following a rabies incursion and the proximity of Indigenous communities to dingo habitat, we conclude that the risk for human transmission could be substantial.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0009124
Pages (from-to)1-29
Number of pages29
JournalPLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2021


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