Epidemiology and Infection

Epidemiology of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus in the United Kingdom: evidence for seasonal transmission by both virulent and avirulent modes of infection

P. J. WHITE a1c1, R. C. TROUT a2, S. R. MOSS a3, A. DESAI a3, M. ARMESTO a3, N. L. FORRESTER a3, E. A. GOULD a3 and P. J. HUDSON a1
a1 Institute of Biological Science, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, UK
a2 Forestry Research, Alice Holt Lodge, Wrecclesham, Farnham, Surrey GU10 4LH, UK
a3 Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (formerly Institute of Virology), Mansfield Road, Oxford OX1 3SR, UK

Article author query
white p   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
trout r   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
moss s   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
desai a   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
armesto m   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
forrester n   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
gould e   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
hudson p   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


Rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) has killed many millions of wild rabbits in Europe and Australia, but has had little impact in the United Kingdom, despite outbreaks having occurred since 1994. High seroprevalence detected in the absence of associated mortality had suggested the presence of an endemic non-pathogenic strain which may be ‘protecting’ UK populations. Following the first detailed field study of RHDV epidemiology in the United Kingdom, using mark–recapture with serum sampling, we report that RHDV caused highly prevalent persistent infection in seropositive rabbits in the absence of associated mortality. Furthermore the virus strains responsible could not be distinguished phylogenetically from known pathogenic isolates, and were clearly very different from the only previously identified non-pathogenic strain of RHDV. These findings suggest that many – perhaps most – strains of RHDV may be propagated through both ‘pathogenic’ and ‘non-pathogenic’ modes of behaviour. Transmission occurred predominantly during and just after the breeding season.

(Accepted December 22 2003)

c1 Dr P. J. White, Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Imperial College Faculty of Medicine, Norfolk Place, London W2 1PG, UK.