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Rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) is a highly infectious, frequently fatal, disease of rabbits caused by rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV). In 2010, a new variant, RHDV2, appeared in Europe1 and is increasingly being diagnosed in the UK. Only rabbits and some species of hares are susceptible to RHDV2 infection. Enhanced biosecurity measures as well as variant-specific definitive diagnosis are important in limiting the spread of disease and for selecting the correct vaccine.
Variable mortality and clinical presentations, from sudden death to subacute/chronic disease, are seen in rabbits infected with RHDV2. The incubation period is between three and nine days and clinical signs can last up to five days. Common presentations include:
Peracute: sudden death in apparently clinically healthy rabbits with no premonitory clinical signs.
Acute: clinical signs of malaise, usually followed by pyrexia (temperatures above 40.1°C) and death (after 12 to 36 hours). Circulatory shock with severe hypotension, haemorrhage, neurological signs and vocalisation are variably present.
Subacute/chronic: protracted clinical disease characterised by lethargy, anorexia, weight loss and severe jaundice. Death, if it occurs, typically happens one to two weeks after the onset of clinical signs, and is generally due to liver dysfunction.
Subclinical: a proportion of infected animals remain subclinical and may shed virus for up to two months.
Treatment of animals with RHDV2 infection is symptomatic and includes fluid therapy, assisted feeding and temperature control. Isolation and barrier nursing are required due to high viral shedding.
RHDV2 infection can be …
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