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New strain of rabbit haemorrhagic virus confirmed in Western NSW

RHDV-2, a new strain of the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Virus (previously known as the rabbit calicivirus) has been confirmed in Western NSW, following detection of the disease in a rabbit found dead at Broken Hill in August.

RHDV-2 was first discovered in Canberra in May 2015 and the disease has since spread to multiple sites in New South Wales and South Australia, but this recently confirmed recording of the virus is the first time it has been detected in Western NSW.

The dead rabbit was brought in to the Local Land Services Western Region office in Broken Hill by Lindy Molesworth from Rupee Station north east of Broken Hill. The carcase was then sent by to a NSW DPI laboratory for testing.

Simon and Lindy Molesworth had found six rabbits within a fortnight that appeared to have died from a virus.

“Finding so many rabbits was very unusual over such a short space of time and we were speaking to a local vet,

Dr Greg Curran, who encouraged us to have one of the rabbits tested,” said Simon Molesworth.

“When we got a call to say the virus had been confirmed, we were very pleased because eradicating feral pests like rabbits is critical for environmental and agricultural sustainability.”

“We have a number of revegetation areas on our property where the rabbits will eat the fresh growth and seedlings, which slows regeneration. In such a good season as we’re currently experiencing, rabbit numbers will increased dramatically so having this new biological agent to control their numbers is extremely beneficial.”

Sophie Hemley, District Veterinary Officer with Local Land Services Western Region reports that although RHDV-2 has the same mode of action as the traditional RHDV-1, the two viruses are distinctly different.

“While the wild rabbit population has developed significant resistance to RHDV-1 since its introduction to the Australian rabbit population in 1996, the newly emerged RHDV-2 is believed to be a more deadly, virulent strain of the virus,” explained Dr Hemley.

“It is expected that landholders in Western NSW will start to see a decline in wild European rabbit numbers in coming months as RHDV-2 continues to spread.”

Local Land Services Western Region is urging landholders to report rabbit deaths to their nearest Local Land Services office, so that the spread of the disease can be monitored.

An additional biological control for the wild rabbit population, RHDV-1 K5, is still projected to be released by authorities in autumn 2017.

Owners of pet rabbits are also urged to take precautions to protect their animals as there is no vaccine specific for RHDV-2 currently available in Australia.

The Australian Veterinary Association has advised rabbit owners to have their pet rabbits vaccinated with the conventional RHDV-1 vaccine at four and twelve weeks of age, followed by six-monthly boosters for breeding rabbits or annual boosters for all other pet rabbits.

“It is believed that there will be some cross-immunity between virus types, however vaccination should never replace good hygiene practices,” said Dr Hemley.

Pet rabbits vaccinated with the conventional RHDV-1 vaccine will have immunity to the RHDV-1 K5 virus.

For more information please contact Local Land Services Western Region:

  • Sophie Hemley, District Veterinary Officer – 0417 248 135
  • David Creeper, Manager Biosecurity and Emergency Services – 0429 234 972

Media contact:  Meg Strang for Local Land Services Western Region ( 0429 340 600).