A serial cross-sectional study of the prevalence of rabbit haemorrhagic disease on three farms in the lower North Island of New Zealand

J. Henning, P. Davies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Aim: To estimate over a 3-year period following the first release of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) the prevalence of rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) and the abundance of rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in an area that historically had low rabbit densities. Methods: Three farms grazing predominantly sheep and beef cattle, located close together and with low initial rabbit densities, were selected for study. RHDV had been deliberately released on all farms in December 1997. Farms were visited 2–3 times per year between June 1998 and April 2001. At each visit, rabbits were shot with the aid of spotlights at night and blood samples were collected for detection of RHDV antibodies. Rabbit carcasses were necropsied and the age of the animals was determined. Rabbit abundance on each property was measured throughout the study using spotlight night counts. Logistic regression was used to identify factors associated with the risk of carcasses being seropositive for RHDV. Results: Rabbit density differed initially between farms (8.2, 9.9, 2.3 rabbits per spotlight km in June 1998), and declined on all three properties over time (1.2, 2.4, 1.1 rabbits per spotlight km in November 2000). Highest antibody titres to RHDV were initially evident on the farm on which rabbits were most abundant. The average prevalence of seropositive rabbits overall was 21% (95% CI=15–28%). Female rabbits tended to be less likely to be seropositive for RHDV than males (OR=0.47; 95% CI=0.21–1.02). The odds of becoming seropositive were reduced for rabbits born in the breeding season of 1999–2000 (OR=0.17; 95% CI=0.05–0.64). Conclusions: The temporal pattern of outbreaks measured by peaks of seroprevalence differed between closely-spaced farms when they had different rabbit densities, but were similar when rabbit densities were similar. Microclimate and vegetation influencing abundance of insect vectors for RHDV and intrinsic population-related factors like rabbit breeding behaviour are also likely to be involved in local patterns of spread.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-153
Number of pages5
JournalNew Zealand Veterinary Journal
Volume53
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2005

Keywords

  • Oryctolagus cuniculus
  • Population density
  • Rabbit haemorrhagic disease
  • Serology
  • Seroprevalence
  • Wild rabbit

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