In Madagascar, the black rat, Rattus rattus, is the main reservoir of plague (Yersinia pestis infection), a disease still responsible for hundreds of cases each year in this country. This study used experimental plague challenge to assess susceptibility in wild-caught rats to better understand how R. rattus can act as a plague reservoir. An important difference in plague resistance between rat populations from the plague focus (central highlands) and those from the plague-free zone (low altitude area) was confirmed to be a widespread phenomenon. In rats from the plague focus, we observed that sex influenced plague susceptibility, with males slightly more resistant than females. Other individual factors investigated (weight and habitat of sampling) did not affect plague resistance. When infected at high bacterial dose (more than 10 5 bacteria injected), rats from the plague focus died mainly within 3-5 days and produced specific antibodies, whereas after low-dose infection (<5,000 bacteria), delayed mortality was observed and surviving seronegative rats were not uncommon. These results concerning plague resistance level and the course of infection in the black rat would contribute to a better understanding of plague circulation in Madagascar.
- Experimental challenge
- infectious disease resistance
- pathogen-mediated selection
- rodent-borne disease
- Yersinia pestis