The European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), a Source of Zoonotic Cryptosporidiosis


R. M. Chalmers. UK Cryptosporidium Reference Unit, NPHS Microbiology Swansea, Singleton Hospital, Swansea SA2 8QA, UK. Tel.: + 44 (0) 1792 285341; Fax: + 44 (0) 1792 202320; E-mail:


Cryptosporidium spp. have been found in the faeces of over 150 mammalian host species, but the risks to public health from wildlife are poorly understood. In summer 2008, the Cryptosporidium sp. rabbit genotype was identified as the aetiological agent in an outbreak of waterborne human cryptosporidiosis. The source was a wild rabbit that had entered a treated water tank. To establish current knowledge about Cryptosporidium spp. infecting lagomorphs, especially the host range and biological characteristics of the rabbit genotype, and the potential risks to public health that rabbits may pose in the transmission of zoonotic cryptosporidiosis, we undertook a literature and data review. The literature returned demonstrates that although the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) has been the most widely studied lagomorph, few large scale studies were found. The prevalence of Cryptosporidium spp. in wild rabbit populations in the two large scale studies was 0.9% (95%CI 0.2–5.0) and 0.0% (95%CI 0.0–1.6). Neither study provided age nor sex profiles nor typing of Cryptosporidium isolates. The infecting Cryptosporidium species was confirmed in just four other studies of rabbits, all of which showed the rabbit genotype. Human-infectious Cryptosporidium species including Cryptosporidium parvum have caused experimental infections in rabbits and it is likely that this may also occur naturally. No published studies of the host range and biological features of the Cryptosporidium rabbit genotype were identified, but information was generated on the identification and differentiation of the rabbit genotype at various genetic loci. Both pet and wild rabbits are a potential source of human cryptosporidiosis and as such, good hygiene practices are recommended during and after handling rabbits or exposure to their faeces, or potentially contaminated surfaces. Water supplies should be protected against access by wildlife, including rabbits.