Submitted by Steve on 14:54, 28th Jun, 2017 | 0

Earlier this week the GSPCA released information about a virus that has killed a number of rabbits in Guernsey called RHVD2 which can be seen by visiting -

David Chamberlain States Veterinary Officer Agriculture from the Countryside & Land Management Services (ACLMS) States of Guernsey has issued this information in light of this dangerous disease to the rabbits of Guernsey

“Classic” Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RVHD) was first discovered in China in 1984 and was confirmed in Guernsey in 1993.  RHDV primarily or exclusively affects wild and domesticated European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) the European brown hares (Lepus europaeus) and the species of wild rabbits found in North America are not susceptible to RVHD viruses. A variant RHVD, known as RHVD-2 was first recorded in 2010 in France, and was subsequently been identified in the UK.  RHVD-2 has some differences from the classic RVHD (now known as RVHD-1) in particularly it may affect rabbits of any age, as opposed to RVHD1, which is rarely if ever seen in rabbits under 8-10 weeks of age.  Disease caused by RVHD-1 had high mortality rates in rabbits but disease caused by RVHD-2 had variable mortality rates, 40% to 100%, that appeared to vary between breeds and different collections of rabbits.

Until recently we had no evidence that RVHD-2 was present on Guernsey and in an attempt to protect the wild and companion rabbit populations we advised that voluntary import controls were put on rabbits from the UK.  It was recommended that importers of rabbits kept their rabbits in isolation for 2 weeks following import. In addition I recommended that RVHD-2 became a notifiable disease to enable me to monitor the health status of the local rabbit population. At the end of last week I was alerted by a private veterinary practitioner that laboratory reports that they had just received confirmed the presence of RVHD-2 virus in the livers of two rabbits that had died and had been post-mortemed.  These positive results indicate field exposure rather than vaccination. One was from St Andrews and one was from the Forest.

I attempted to trace the source of the infection in these cases and it was apparent that the likely source was wild rabbits. In both cases the victims had been present on their holdings for some months and both enjoyed the freedom or a run on grass to which wild rabbits also had access. RVHD-2 eradication is generally impossible if the virus becomes established in wild rabbit populations.

RVHD-1 and 2 can also be transmitted by biting insects such as fleas and mosquitoes and on fomites (inanimate objects) such as food bowls, hutches, foraged plants, shoes clothes.  Flies are very efficient mechanical vectors; infectious virus can persist in flies for up to 9 days. Viruses can also be deposited on vegetation in fly faeces or regurgita, then eaten by a rabbit. Mechanical transmission has also been demonstrated in birds and mammals, which can excrete infectious RHDV in faeces after eating infected rabbits. The virus can survive a long time in the environment but is killed by most disinfectants.

RVHD-1 and 2 viruses can enter the body through the oral, nasal or conjunctival routes, although oral transmission is thought to predominate. Most or all secretions and excretions, including urine, faeces and respiratory secretions, are thought to contain virus, and RHDV_1 & 2 can remain viable in carcasses for long periods. Even rabbit fur alone can be infectious. Surviving animals can continue to shed RHDV for at least a month after they recover.

It is disappointing that Guernsey’s wild rabbit population appears to be infected and this is likely to be as a result of midges and mosquitoes being carried on the wind from France.  It is likely that the wild rabbits across the Bailiwick are infected with RVHD-2 if it has been introduced by midges and mosquitoes. RVHD-2 is an additional challenge to Guernsey wild rabbit population which is still challenged by feral ferrets and suffers cyclical outbreaks of myxomatosis.  

Studies in Italy and France suggests that in wild rabbits we can expect RVHD-2 to predominate over RVHD-1 in the next 5 years or so.  However at this time in Guernsey wild rabbits are the reservoir hosts for myxomatosis, RVHD-1 and now RVHD-2.  Currently it is recommended that companion rabbits should be vaccinated against all three of these diseases to protect them because there is no effective treatment for diseases rabbits.  Insects play a role in spreading the viruses’ so the use of fly screens and insect repellents is advisable especially in the summer to provide another layer of defence for rabbits.  It would appear that the companion rabbits at greatest risk from infection from these viruses will be those most likely to have close encounters with wild rabbits.  Typically these would be rabbits who have access to garden runs and rabbits with the lowest risk of infection would be house rabbits.  However because flying insects are very efficient mechanical vectors of these viruses so even house rabbits are at risk particularly in the summer.  A thorough cleaning and disinfection routine for rabbit accommodation and any litter trays will also avoid attracting flying insects.  Cleaning is 90% of the process followed by disinfection with a product safe for rabbits such as ‘Anigene HLD4V’ by ‘Medichem Scientific’ which has been confirmed as effective against RVHD2 at a dilution of 1:50. It is important that the correct dilution is used.

Companion rabbits are very unlikely to become infected with myxomatosis, RVHD-1 or 2 from hay or barn dried grass.  The risk / benefit analysis would be in the favour of feeding these foods.  Foraged foods may potentially carry RVHD-1 & 2 so owner should try to obtain plants from areas out of the reach of wild rabbits.  Garden runs provide companion rabbits with significant welfare benefits and I would not want to deter owners from using them.  Owners should try to exclude wild rabbits from the garden or use a double fence around rabbit runs and stop moving the run around the garden.

Vaccines for RVHD-1 do not protect against RVHD-2.  A French manufacturer, ‘Falavie’, produces a vaccine that protects against RVHD-2 called ‘Filavac VHD K C+V’.  Currently Filavac only has a marketing authorisation in France and this does not extend to a European marketing authorisation because there is no ‘mutual recognition’ for veterinary medicine marketing authorisations.  The Bailiwick of Guernsey recognises veterinary medicines with UK marketing authorisations and EU marketing authorisations and these can be imported under a General Licence.  Medicines with other individual country MA’s such as Filavac require specific ‘open licences’ for their import.  The Import and Export (Control) (Guernsey) Law, 1946 allows Vets and Pharmacists to import specified veterinary medicines. The Committee for Home Affairs created an open licence to enable the import of Filavac from the three main veterinary wholesalers in the UK last year and it has been extended for this year.  Local private veterinary businesses are therefore able to import Filavac vaccine.

Filavac vaccine is administered by injection and a single dose to healthy rabbits and will provide protection against RVHD-2 for 12 months. Rabbits in rescue centres, sanctuaries or does used for breeding or those in contact with wild rabbits are at high risk of infection and should be vaccinated at 6 monthly intervals. Filavac is an inactivated, and so cannot lead to clinical RVHD in a vaccinated rabbit.  Owner’s private veterinary practitioners will advise them regarding specific vaccination programs for their companion rabbits.”

Further information from the States Vet has been –

"The rabbit viruses’ myxomatosis, RVHD-1 & 2 do not cause disease in dogs, cats or humans. Experienced rabbiters know not to eat rabbits that appear unhealthy before or after they are killed. When dressing a rabbit, skinning and gutting it, rabbiters must check of signs of disease and reject any carcases that appear abnormal. Rejected carcases should be disposed of in household waste because they may be infectious to other rabbits if left in the environment.

The RVHD-1 & 2 viruses are very hardy and will survive in the environment for long periods. Flies will be attracted to rabbit carcases in the environment, whether they died naturally or were killed and discarded. If the carcase was infected with RVHD-1 or 2 flies are very efficient mechanical vectors for these viruses and could transfer virus to other rabbits.

The RVHD-1 & 2 are killed by cooking at high temperature but if infected rabbit meat and offal are eaten raw the virus can survive passage through the alimentary tract. RVHD-1 & 2 can therefore appear in the faeces of pets or carrion-eaters (scavengers) that have eaten raw infected rabbit carcases. This faeces could be a source of infection to rabbits and it will also be attractive to flies which can transmit virus to other rabbits.

Uncollected faeces from dogs that scavenge rabbit carcases is a potential source of RVHD-1 & 2 infection to rabbits either directly or indirectly via flies. This is another reason why dog owners must pick up after their pets.”

At the GSPCA we have escalated all isolation procedures for rabbits in our care and those arriving at the Shelter.

Steve Byrne GSPCA Manager said “We had a young sick wild rabbit arrive late on Monday and passed away Tuesday which we have passed onto our vets and informed the States Vet just in case.”

“If any rabbit owners have any concerns about their pet we would urge you to speak to your vet as soon as possible.”

“We are aware that rabbits are being vaccinated for RHVD2 this week at the vets as will all of ours when the vaccine arrives and they will continue to be kept inside or in isolation at the GSPCA until our vets advise otherwise.”

“We did have a stray tan and white rabbit arrive from Pont Valliant last night but thankfully it is healthy and if anyone has any information please do let us know.”

“We are working closely with our vets and the States Vet to monitor the situation and will of keep all up to date as and when information becomes available.”

Here was the information released earlier this week from the GSPCA –

The GSPCA is asking all rabbits to take great care as Rabbit Haemorraghic Viral Disease (RHVD2) variant 2 has been discovered here in Guernsey.

The fatal disease is a huge risk to unvaccinated rabbits and especially to those in outside enclosures.

The GSPCA has been in close communication with local vets and the States Vet after concerns of a possible disease affecting rabbits from around Guernsey over recent weeks.

The GSPCA this morning have been in communication with vets today who have confirmed two positive case of results from rabbits who have died due to RHVD2.

The GSPCA helps over 150 wild and domestic rabbits every year and with this disease found not only in a rabbit that has come into the Shelter but has been found in a pet rabbit not in or from the Animal Shelter means that the disease could well be in the wild population of rabbits.

The disease is believed to be spread by parasites that feed on infected rabbits and pick it up and pass on during their life cycle to other rabbits that they feed on.

The “classic” RVHD has been present in the UK for decades, variant RHVD (also known as RHVD2 or RHDV variant) was first noted in 2010 in France, and has subsequently been identified in the UK.

This virus has some differences from the classic RVHD. In particularly it may affect rabbits of any age, as opposed to RVHD1, which is rarely if ever seen in rabbits under 8-10 weeks of age. It has also been reported that the variant gives rise to lower mortalities than classical RVHD, this is not necessarily borne out by reports, and this may be thought to be due to be the case due to its phylogenetic placement alongside non-pathogenic strains.

Mortality may vary from collection to collection, and possibly from breed to breed.

The GSPCA and the States Vet are urging rabbit owners and especially those that have rabbits living outside to speak to their vets about vaccinations to help protect their pets and ensure where possible they are away from any wild rabbits that may have access to your garden.

There are now 4 vaccines available in the EU which have been licensed or are undergoing licensing for efficacy against RHVD2. Three of these vaccines (Filavac VHD K C+V, Cunivak RHD and Cunipravac RHD-2 Variant) now have a Special Import or Special Treatment Certificate from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, on the basis of a clear need to do so given the current disease status.

Differences between RVHD and RVHD-2

RVHD-2 affects rabbits of any age, unlike RVHD which is very rarely seen in rabbits under the age of 8-10 weeks.

RVHD mortality rate is 100%, the mortality rate of RVHD-2 is 20-25%.

It has a longer and viable incubation period of 3 to 9 days in comparison to RVHD which has an incubation period between 24 and 72 hours.

Prolonged period of illness before death with RVHD-2.

Death can occur as early as several hours from the rabbit displaying normal behaviours to up to 1 or 2 days with RVHD.

RVHD-2 symptoms don’t look as similar to RVHD as rabbits infected with the virus live longer.

Blood in the liver of a rabbit infected with RVHD-2 is not as developed or in fact absent, these changes are not typical of RVHD.

In some cases involving RVHD-2 bleeding under the skin has been noted.

Symptoms of RVHD-2

Not eating.

Bleeding under the skin.

Clotting disorders.

Signs of liver disease including: weight loss/ jaundice.

Bleeding from orifices.

In the UK there have been a number of laboratory confirmed cases of RVHD-2 from Dorset to East Anglia in recent years. Several small outbreaks have been confirmed, as well as a large outbreak at the end of 2015 following a large rabbit show. There have also been unconfirmed reports based on clinical suspicion to detailed post mortems. The true number of deaths by RVHD-2 is harder to ascertain as many pet rabbits do not get taken to vets regularly if at all and many deaths go unreported.

Steve Byrne GSPCA Manager said "The team at the GSPCA are extremely worried at present for all rabbits in Guernsey as a very serious virus has already killed two confirmed rabbits this month and tests have just come back as RHVD2."

"Normally there are symptoms leading up to this disease but the one that we have seen at the GSPCA was well and feeding normally and then the following day was rushed to the vet where nothing could be done."

"The rabbit in question was vaccinated against Myxi and RHVD1 but not variant 2 which has never been an issue here in Guernsey."

"There have been reports of bunnies found dead and another confirmed case of RHVD from the vets from a pet owner."

"This disease is extremely dangerous to our pet bunnies and for those rabbits living outside pet owners really need to contact their vet for advice."

"The virus is believed to be passed on by vectors such as fleas and other parasites although only having been discovered in France in 2010 a lot still is unknown."

"We are working extremely closely with the States Vet and will of course update with further information as and when we are able to."

"Some advice from the GSPCA would be to avoid taking your rabbits to rabbit shows this concerning time."

"If you are getting a new bunny and introducing to other rabbits please do keep them quarantined and separate for a minimum of 2 weeks."

“With the GSPCA helping sick and injured rabbits, cruelty cases and unwanted bunnies from around Guernsey on a daily basis we have escalated and heightened all of our isolation and quarantine procedures to ensure we are doing all w can for every rabbit that comes into our care.”

"How RHVD2 has entered Guernsey is impossible to say exactly as it could be from many ways from rabbits imported to the island to parasites carried on migrating birds."

"If your rabbit is unwell or showing any signs or symptoms of RHVD2 we would urge you to immediately seek vet advice."

"A great place for information on rabbits is the RWAF website which can be seen by going to"

“We know it is an extremely sad time when a pet passes away but if any rabbit owners have recently had a rabbit that has died please do send us details so we can pass onto the States Vet by email [email protected] .”

“Please send the rabbits breed, age, ailments, condition, feeding habits, location, date, description of droppings and urine as well as any other useful information.”

“As with any disease outbreak at the GSPCA we use disinfectant that is tested to eradicate the virus and we do sell Anigene at the shop we have here on site.”

“At present we are not rehoming any of our rabbits at the GSPCA until we are happy it is safe to do so.”

The GSPCA will update further as and when we have information.

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