A new strain of calcivirus has been confirmed in rabbits in Western Australia, following detections in other parts of Australia.
Department of Agriculture and Food research officer Susan Campbell said the haemorrhagic virus strain known as RHDV2 had been confirmed in the Perth metropolitan and Great Southern areas.
RHDV2 was detected in a wild rabbit in Canberra in 2015 and the virus has since been found in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania.
“Rabbits are a widespread and common pest,” Dr Campbell said.
“A Czech strain of RHDV1 (commonly known as rabbit calicivirus) has been used as a biocontrol for rabbits in Australia since 1996 and has had a significant impact in reducing pest populations.
“It is important to note that RHDV2 is different, and it is not known how it arrived in Australia.”
Dr Campbell said researchers were monitoring how rapidly RHDV2 was spreading across the country and what impact it may have on pest rabbit populations.
RHDV2 can cause death in young rabbits and vaccinated rabbits. The currently available vaccine is not known to be protective against disease from RHDV2.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries is investigating options to develop a new vaccine that has improved effectiveness against both RHDV1 and RHDV2 variants.
Whilst the new vaccine is being developed, a revised vaccination protocol using the existing vaccine has been suggested for rabbits, although it is not known to what extent this will confer protection.
Owners of pet rabbits or breeding stock are urged to implement strict biosecurity measures to protect their animals from infection. More information is available from the Australian Veterinary Association website.
WA landholders are encouraged to report suspected outbreaks of RHDV2 to the department by contacting the Pest and Disease Information Service on 1800 084 881.
Evidence of rabbit disease can also be reported online through the new RabbitScan App and website www.rabbitscan.org.au.
Further information on the Invasive Animal CRC’s National RHDV Monitoring Program can be found on the PestSmart website.
Dr Campbell said even if an outbreak reduced pest rabbit populations, it was vital that follow-up conventional control methods were used.
Media contact: Jodie Thomson/Lisa Bertram, media liaison +61 (0)8 9368 3937