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Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease: Applying Occam’s Razor to competing hypotheses

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  • COMMENTARY

David Peacock, Fax: +61 8 8303 9555; E-mail: david.peacock@sa.gov.au

Abstract

Rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) is a highly virulent lagovirus endemic in Europe and Australasian populations of the European rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus. It has also caused several unexplained disease outbreaks in domestic European rabbits in North America. Non-pathogenic spread of RHDV leading to persistent infection which later reactivated has recently been proposed as the cause of overt disease and death of a pet rabbit in Canada, the first confirmed case of Rabbit haemorrhagic disease in that country. We suggest that there is little evidence to support non-pathogenic spread of virulent RHDV, some evidence that is contradictory, and evidence to support a simpler alternative hypothesis. RHDV can be spread over long distances between sparse rabbit populations by fomites or flying insects. Although highly pathogenic, RHDV can be limited in its spread within rabbit populations, or its presence masked by closely related but non-pathogenic lagoviruses which can provide protection against acute disease. In the absence of any evidence from clinical studies to support reactivation of persistent RHDV infection, the simpler explanation seems more likely to be correct.

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