Journal of Hygiene

Research Article

The differential transmissibility of myxoma virus strains of differing virulence grades by the rabbit flea Spilopsyllus cuniculi (Dale)*

A. R. Mead-Briggsa1 and J. A. Vaughana1

a1 Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Pest Infestation Control Laboratory, Tangley Place, Worplesdon, Guildford, Surrey


Laboratory studies showed that few rabbit fleas (Spilopsyllus cuniculi (Dale)) transmitted myxomatosis after removal from wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus (L)) that had been infected for fewer than 10–12 days, irrespective of the virulence of the myxoma virus strain involved. Rabbits infected with fully virulent (Grade I) strains died within 10–15 days and few fleas from these hosts became infective; averaging all the samples taken, 12% of the fleas were infective. Also, few fleas acquired infectivity on individual rabbits which recovered from infection with attenuated strains; the mean was 8% infective. Rabbits which died between 17 and 44 days after infection had higher proportions of infective fleas at all sampling times; the mean was 42% infective. Male and female fleas transmitted virus with equal efficiency.

For rabbits infected with any of the attenuated virus strains the mean percentage of infective fleas was inversely related to the survival time of the host. Rabbits infected with moderately attenuated strains (Grades IIIA and IIIB) had, on average, the highest proportion of infective fleas; hence such strains have a selective advantage and have become predominant under natural conditions in Britain. The changes that might occur if there is an increase in host resistance to myxomatosis are discussed.

(Received March 03 1975)