New variant of rabbit virus also found in wild rabbits

This week the type 2 form of the lethal RHD virus  was confirmed in wild rabbits in the Netherlands. The virus, first encountered in France in 2010, was found in three wild rabbits from the Dutch provinces of Utrecht, Gelderland and South Holland that were submitted to the DWHC for post-mortem exam. Another rabbit from Utrecht did not have the disease and whilst investigation is ongoing in four other rabbits, RHDV2 is suspected in one (from Limburg province); at least one of the others is suspected of having myxomatosis.

The DWHC is currently receiving many reports of rabbit deaths from across the country but particularly from Enkhuizen and Eindhoven although as of yet no rabbits from these areas have been submitted for post-mortem exam.

It is difficult to predict the impact that this form of the disease could have on the rabbit population of the Netherlands. Whilst it is known that RHDV type 1 can decimate rabbit populations by up to 80-90%, reports of outbreaks with this ‘new’ form (type 2) of the virus in different countries vary widely with mortality ranging from 5 to 70%. The submission of the rabbit from South Holland detailed a decrease in the local rabbit population of 70-75% over a short period, although the mortality rate appeared to have tailed off in the remaining animals more recently. Given the previously reported variation in mortality rate we expect that this situation is not necessarily representative of the disease in other areas of the country.

Report finding dead rabbits

The DWHC are closely monitoring the incidence and distribution of this disease in the Dutch wild rabbit population and you can help by reporting finding a dead animal via the submission form on our website. For microscopic examination of these animals it is essential that the cadavers are in a fresh state i.e. not dead for more than one day; cadavers should not be frozen. It is therefore preferable to report dead rabbits as soon as possible and to keep the cadaver in a cool (not frozen) place until it can be collected. After submitting your form you will be contacted by the DWHC who will help decide whether the animal is suitable for submission and advise you on how to package the cadaver and arrange collection of the packaged rabbit from your home or place of work.