An epidemiological study of the spread of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus amongst previously non-exposed rabbit populations in the North Island of New Zealand.
ABSTRACT To monitor the initial releases of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) into previously unexposed rabbit populations in the North Island of New Zealand.
The study programme consisted of pre-release spotlight counts of rabbits on the study farms, pre-release serological samples to check for prior exposure to RHDV, a farmer-completed questionnaire and post-release spotlight counts to measure any change in rabbit numbers following the release of RHDV. In total, 23 sites within the lower North Island where RHDV was released during the period November 1997 to June 1998, were monitored. The most common release method involved the spreading of chopped carrot bait laced with a solution of virus-infected material obtained from dead rabbits.
Eighty percent of farmers thought that the disease had spread away from the release sites to areas where virus had not been liberated, although only 27% reported finding dead rabbits more than 300 m away from release locations. Seventy-three percent of farmers were satisfied with the overall effectiveness of rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) as a means of reducing rabbit numbers, but 56% indicated they would modify the way they released the virus in the future. Average pre-release night spotlight counts per property ranged from 2.2 rabbits/km to 36.9 rabbits/km, the median being 12.8 rabbits/km. The time interval from initial release to when the first dead rabbit was seen which the farmer believed to have died from RHD varied from 3 to 21 days, the mean being 7.4 days and the median 7 days. The median change in night spotlight counts per site at 3 weeks after release, expressed as a percentage relative to pre-release counts, was -15.5% (range +18.9% to -76.9%) and at 6 weeks was -49.7% (range 0% to -76.9%). The time of the estimated peak of the disease epidemic ranged from 1 to 7 weeks after release of RHDV, the mean being 3.1 and the median 3 weeks.
Rabbit haemorrhagic disease reduced rabbit numbers on the majority of farms where the virus was released, and appears to be an effective measure for controlling rabbit populations in New Zealand.
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ABSTRACT: A study was conducted to investigate the persistence of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) in the environment. Virus was impregnated onto two carrier materials (cotton tape and bovine liver) and exposed to environmental conditions on pasture during autumn in New Zealand. Samples were collected after 1, 10, 44 and 91 days and the viability of the virus was determined by oral inoculation of susceptible 11- to 14-week-old New Zealand White rabbits. Evidence of RHDV infection was based on clinical and pathological signs and/or seroconversion to RHDV. Virus impregnated on cotton tape was viable at 10 days of exposure but not at 44 days, while in bovine liver it was still viable at 91 days. The results of this study suggest that RHDV in animal tissues such as rabbit carcasses can survive for at least 3 months in the field, while virus exposed directly to environmental conditions, such as dried excreted virus, is viable for a period of less than 1 month. Survival of RHDV in the tissues of dead animals could, therefore, provide a persistent reservoir of virus, which could initiate new outbreaks of disease after extended delays.Epidemiology and Infection 09/2005; 133(4):719-30. · 2.87 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: Blowflies (Diptera: Calliphoridae) and flesh flies (Diptera: Sarcophagidae) are potential vectors of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) in New Zealand. The associations between habitat and weather factors on the abundance of these flies were investigated. Between October 1999 and June 2001, flies were trapped on open pasture and in dense vegetation patches on farmland in the Himatangi area of the North Island. Five calliphorid species were trapped commonly at scrub edges and the most abundant sarcophagid, Oxysarcodexia varia Walker, was trapped mainly on open pasture. An abundance peak of O. varia was probably associated with the occurrence of a rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) outbreak in the study area. Overall abundance of flies varied according to habitat and species, and species numbers differed between seasons and years. The all-day minimum temperature 3 weeks before trapping was a significant variable in all models of fly abundance, whereas average rainfall did not affect fly abundance. The all-day temperature range was significant only for O. varia. The influence of other climatic factors varied between fly species. Climate dependent variations in fly abundance may contribute to the risk of transmission of RHD, which occurred intermittently on the site during the study period.Medical and Veterinary Entomology 10/2005; 19(3):251-62. · 2.21 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: To estimate over a 3-year period following the first release of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) the prevalence of rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) and the abundance of rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in an area that historically had low rabbit densities. Three farms grazing predominantly sheep and beef cattle, located close together and with low initial rabbit densities, were selected for study. RHDV had been deliberately released on all farms in December 1997. Farms were visited 2-3 times per year between June 1998 and April 2001. At each visit, rabbits were shot with the aid of spotlights at night and blood samples were collected for detection of RHDV antibodies. Rabbit carcasses were necropsied and the age of the animals was determined. Rabbit abundance on each property was measured throughout the study using spotlight night counts. Logistic regression was used to identify factors associated with the risk of carcasses being seropositive for RHDV. Rabbit density differed initially between farms (8.2, 9.9, 2.3 rabbits per spotlight km in June 1998), and declined on all three properties over time (1.2, 2.4, 1.1 rabbits per spotlight km in November 2000). Highest antibody titres to RHDV were initially evident on the farm on which rabbits were most abundant. The average prevalence of seropositive rabbits overall was 21% (95% CI=15-28%). Female rabbits tended to be less likely to be seropositive for RHDV than males (OR=0.47; 95% CI=0.21-1.02). The odds of becoming seropositive were reduced for rabbits born in the breeding season of 1999-2000 (OR=0.17; 95% CI=0.05-0.64). The temporal pattern of outbreaks measured by peaks of seroprevalence differed between closely-spaced farms when they had different rabbit densities, but were similar when rabbit densities were similar. Microclimate and vegetation influencing abundance of insect vectors for RHDV and intrinsic population-related factors like rabbit breeding behaviour are also likely to be involved in local patterns of spread.New Zealand veterinary journal 05/2005; 53(2):149-53. · 1.06 Impact Factor