15 May 2018

New strain of rabbit calicivirus found in New Zealand

6:33 pm on 15 May 2018

A new strain of the rabbit calicivirus has been confirmed in a single wild rabbit found on a Malborough farm.

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Photo: Supplied / DoC

The strain is separate from an existing strain released in central Otago under a controlled programme to try to reduce pests that literally eat away at a farm's profitability by consuming grass that is supposed to help livestock grow.

The response manager for the Ministry for Primary Industries, John Brightwell, said the new strain of the virus had no impact on human health or the health other animals, but was still concerning.

He said the strain - called RHDV2 - was widespread in Europe and Australia, but this was the first time it had been found in New Zealand.

"We understand this will be worrying news for many rabbit owners, and we want to give people as many tools as possible to minimise the risk to their animals," Mr Brightwell said.

"As a precaution, we began work at the end of last month to import the latest vaccine for the strain from France.

"We expect the first 1000 doses to be in the country next week and are working with importers to secure a long term supply," he said.

These would cost $40 a dose.

John Brightrwell said there were other things that owners of pet rabbits could do to minimise their risk:

  • Keep them separate from wild rabbits
  • Wash hands between handling rabbits
  • Control insects around pet rabbits as they can spread the virus between rabbits

Meanwhile the success rate of the earlier, official release of the other strain of the disease, is still being assessed.

The Ministry added it might never know exactly how the new strain of the virus came into New Zealand or where it came from.