Essay: Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2)

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  • Subject area(s): Miscellaneous essays
  • Reading time: 2 minutes
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  • Published on: November 25, 2019
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  • Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2)
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Whilst searching different articles about wildlife diseases, I came upon a recent article, published on January 25th of this year, that details the deadly, threatening rabbit virus prevalent in the UK hare populations. The hares, specifically Britain’s brown hares, are now being affected by what is called the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus type 2 (RHDV2), which is thought to have originated from the rabbit populations. It is thought to be spreading across the nation, having been identified in Dorset and Essex (Dorset being on the southern portion of the United Kingdom, and Essex on the south-eastern portion of the UK). This virus affects the hare’s liver function, and produces a fever while contributing to hair loss, lethargy, jaundice, and respiratory and nervous signs (bloody nasal secretions, paralysis, etc.). According to laboratory specialists, the hares seem to be in good condition after death, which places a problem upon the public when finding a dead hare. The virus will stay with the dead carcass and may transmit via direct contact. It also transmits through eaten food, urine and feces, or by respiratory secretions. Surprisingly though, RHDV2 does not replicate in hare predators and they cannot be harmed by obtaining this virus, they are only hosts who mechanically transmit the virus through their feces. “RHDV is extremely contagious; it can be transmitted on fomites and by insects, birds and scavenging mammals. Eradication can therefore be accomplished by depopulation, disinfection, surveillance and quarantines” (OIE). The hare population overall suffers not only from RHDV2 (which is the current, primary cause of the decline in hare populations), but also by myxomatosis, another fatal viral disease, and recent changes in the farming practices.

I find this article unnerving for the hare population. Though it doesn’t greatly affect America, yet, it makes you worried like any virus would, that it could catch on to a human. I was surprised by the fact that when most of the hares who suffered from this disease were found in decent looking health. You would think with all the effects possible for the hares to suffer from, they would show signs upon looking at the dead carcass. This disease reminds me of when we talked in class about the bovine tuberculosis, and how most deer known to have that disease were found looking normal until laboratory findings suggested otherwise when looking at the lungs. Further reading into this article, I found that the hares who become vaccinated against RHDV2 produce a strong, systemic immunity that protects them from the disease but not the infection. That is interesting to me because from what I understand, the hares, even with the immunity, still become ill and die due to the infection? If that is true, researchers need to figure out a way to kill off the virus before the hare is even infected. My last question is why now? Why did the virus suddenly turn up now? Currently the reason is not known, so hopefully soon it will be investigated further, and we find a reasoning.

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