Epidemiology of viral haemorrhagic disease and myxomatosis in a free-living population of wild rabbits
From January 1993 to June 1996, the epidemiology of myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD) was studied in a free-living population of wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in Spain by means of serological surveys and radiotracking. Myxomatosis was endemic and associated with the breeding period. Its serological pattern was characterised by a 100 per cent prevalence of antibodies in adult rabbits and a rapid increase in antibodies in young rabbits in their first year. No mortality from myxomatosis was detected in adults, and mortality in young rabbits could not be estimated because of interference by predators and scavengers and the deaths of many radiotagged rabbits inside their burrows. VHD was also an endemic disease associated with the breeding period. Adults had a higher prevalence of antibodies against VHD than young rabbits, teaching values of 80 to 90 per cent. During the study, there was an increase in rabbit numbers as a result of a decrease in mortality from predation which was associated with an increase in mortality due to VHD and in the prevalence of antibodies to VHD. Mortality from VHD was lower in rabbits with VHD antibodies than in seronegative rabbits, but some mortality from the disease was also detected in seropositive rabbits. The annual mean mortality rate due to VHD in adult rabbits was estimated to be 21.8 per cent
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