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RHDV2: A Threat to Wild and Domesticated Rabbits

By: Brienna Hickmott

A secondary data analysis of the foreign viral pathogen RHDV2 assessing its risk at a population and individual host level.

Introduction

Background

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus type 2 (RHDV2) is an extremely contagious fatal disease first detected in the US in March of 2020.

Objectives

  • What effect does RHDV2 have on wild and domestic populations?
  • How does RHDV2 infect its hosts, and what cytopathic effects result in host fatality?

Hypotheses

  • RHDV2 has substantial effect on both wild and domestic populations due to its high fatality rate. 
  • RHDV2 infects cells via receptor-mediated endocytosis, and ultimately causes severe organ damage that lead to hemorrhaging. 

Research

Material

This data was found through various studies on the pathology of this virus, see Works Cited for more details.

Feral and Domestic Data

  • RDHV2 is used as biological control in Australia for invasive wild rabbits, it has reduced their population by 60% within 8 years. However, the population is beginning to rise again.
  • The virus is extremely contagious and is transmitted via direct contact with infected rabbits and their bodily fluids, contaminated objects, and insects.
  • It has a mortality rate of 80-100% within 12-36 hours. There is no cure.

Affected U.S. Counties

≥198 Total Outbreaks in the United States since 2020

Virology

RHDV2 is from the Calciviridae family and is a single stranded RNA virus.

It’s a kind of viral hepatitis, and primarily targets the liver.

It is extremely resilient to the environment; it can survive in freezing temperatures and for months in deceased hosts.

Symptoms

  • Viral replication within the liver leads to both necrosis and apoptosis of hepatocytes, mass blood clots, and kidney failure.
  • Lesions form in the liver, spleen, and bone marrow.
  • Increased heart and respiratory rate have been observed.
  • Nasal, oral, vaginal, and rectal bleeding can occur. 
  • There are some cases of sudden convulsion or comas before death.
  • Most commonly, rabbits are found dead before any outward symptoms are observed, and diagnosis is performed post-mortem. 

Conclusion

While the exact nature of how RHDV2 replicates inside the liver is unknown, it causes rapid and fatal symptoms including organ damage in the form of lesions. 

Feral and domestic populations of rabbits are seeing significant impact due to RHDV2, however a preventative vaccine is available in some locations for pets. This is likely the best defense for our domestics. Some wild populations of rabbits have seen growth in long-affected areas, so some level of immunity may be evolving suggesting there is still hope for Lagomorphs to beat this deadly disease. 

Works Cited

  • USDA. 2024. Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Story Map. aphis.usda.gov
  • Sun, Z. 2024. Epidemiological characterization and risk assessment of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2/b/GI.2) in the world. Veterinary Research. 55:1
  • Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine. 2023. Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease. cwhl.vet.cornell.edu
  • Ramsey, D. 2023. Sustained Impact of RHDV2 on Wild Rabbit Populations across Australia Eight Years after Its Initial Detection. Viruses. 15:5
  • Neimanis, A. 2018. Elucidation of the pathology and tissue distribution of Lagovirus europaeus GI.2/RHDV2 (rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus 2) in young and adult rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Veterinary Research. 49:1
  • Gleeson, M.  2020. Emerging Infectious Diseases of Rabbits. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice. 23:2

Media Description: Poster about RHDV2 A Threat to Wild and Domesticated Rabbits

Instructor: Arthur Wohlwill

Item Credit: Brienna Hickmott

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