Raccoons (Procyon lotor) in Germany as potential reservoir species for Lyssaviruses
Raccoons can be found almost everywhere in Germany since their first successful introduction in 1934. Although the animal is a well-known reservoir species for rabies in the USA, during the last European fox rabies epizootic, only a few rabid raccoons were reported from Germany. In recent years, the raccoon population density has increased tremendously, especially in (semi) urban settings. Presently, Germany is free of terrestrial wildlife rabies. To assess the potential risk that the raccoon population in Germany could act as a reservoir species upon reemergence of rabies, the susceptibility of the local raccoon population was investigated. Wild-caught animals were inoculated with the most likely lyssavirus variants to infect the local population. It was shown that the raccoons were fully susceptible for a dog and raccoon rabies virus isolate. Also, five of six raccoons inoculated with a fox rabies virus isolate showed clinical signs. However, none of the raccoons infected with European Bat Lyssavirus type 1 succumbed to rabies; meanwhile, all these raccoons seroconverted. It is concluded that the highest risk for the raccoon population in Germany to become infected with lyssaviruses is through the importation of rabies infected dogs.