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J Gen Virol. 2011 Jan;92(Pt 1):31-5. doi: 10.1099/vir.0.026237-0. Epub 2010 Oct 21.

Rabbitpox: a model of airborne transmission of smallpox.

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  • 1Center for Aerobiological Sciences, US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Fort Detrick, Maryland, USA.


Smallpox is a human disease caused by infection with variola virus, a member of the genus Orthopoxvirus. Although smallpox has been eradicated, concern that it might be reintroduced through bioterrorism has therefore led to intensive efforts to develop new vaccines and antiviral drugs against this disease. Because these vaccines and therapeutics cannot be tested in human trials, it is necessary to test such medical countermeasures in different animal models. Although several orthopoxviruses cause disease in laboratory animals, only rabbitpox virus (RPXV) infection of rabbits shows patterns of natural airborne transmission similar to smallpox. Studies have shown that a smallpox-like disease can be produced in rabbits in a controlled fashion through exposure to a small-particle RPXV aerosol, and rabbitpox spreads from animal to animal by the airborne route in a laboratory setting. This model can therefore be utilized to test drugs and vaccines against variola virus and other aerosolized orthopoxviruses.

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