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Bovine rabies outbreaks linked to deforestation
Vampire bats can spread rabies when feeding.
Researchers warn of health risks of destroying forests.

A new study has found that deforestation in Costa Rica increases the risk of cattle being infected with rabies from vampire bats.

Although the Central American country has successfully controlled the disease in dogs through a vaccination programme, cattle are still impacted by the virus, with more than 100 outbreaks since the mid-1980s.

The outbreaks are caused by vampire bats, which are known to feed on cattle as well as wild mammals. They feed at night while the animal is sleeping, with infected bats transmitting the virus in the process.

The study, by researchers at Emory University, USA, used data from Costa Rica’s National Animal Health Service to map the time and locations of outbreaks of rabies in cattle between 1985 and 2020.

The land-use of the locations was also mapped for a radius of 10 km, which is the maximum foraging range for the vampire bat. Although around 25 per cent of the country is protected by a national system of conservation areas, agriculture is an important part of the economy and livestock farms account for about 38 per cent of the country’s territory.

Thomas Gillespie, Emory professor and senior author of the study, explained: “The government has done an amazing job of protecting much of its tropical forest. In some areas, however, the country has high rates of deforestation due to clearing of the land for agricultural uses. It's a big dichotomy.”

Using geographic information system software, the researchers calculated spatial probability estimations. They found an association between deforestation and rabies outbreaks, with the risk increasing by four per cent for each kilometre increase in distance from forest. The southern region of Costa Rica had the highest probability of outbreaks.

Prof Gillespie added : “A healthy tropical forest has phenomenal diversity – not just among plants and mammals like monkeys and bats, but also among microorganisms.

“When you destroy parts of a forest, the diversity goes down and the dynamics of disease transmission may change in a way that leads to the emergence of new pathogens or the reemergence of existing ones.”

The research has been published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Image © Shutterstock

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Charities' XL bully neutering scheme closes

News Story 1
 A scheme that helped owners of XL bully dogs with the cost of neutering has closed to new applications due to high demand.

The scheme, run by the RSPCA, Blue Cross, and Battersea, has helped 1,800 dogs and their owners after XL bullies were banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act.

In England and Wales, owners of XL bully dogs which were over one year old on 31 January 2021 have until 30 June 2024 to get their dog neutered. If a dog was between seven months and 12 months old, it must be neutered by 31 December 2024. If it was under seven months old, owners have until 30 June 2025.

More information can be found on the Defra website. 

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Avian flu cattle outbreak spreads to tenth US state

Cattle in two dairy herds in Iowa have tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), making it the tenth state in the USA to be affected by the ongoing outbreak of the disease in cattle.

Since March 2024, more than 80 herds across the USA have been affected by the virus and three dairy workers have tested positive. Authorities have introduced measures to limit the spread of the virus and farmers have been urged to strengthen their biosecurity protocols.

Mike Naig, Iowa secretary of agriculture, said: "Given the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza within dairy cattle in many other states, it is not a surprise that we would have a case given the size of our dairy industry in Iowa.

"While lactating dairy cattle appear to recover with supportive care, we know this destructive virus continues to be deadly for poultry."