Our Statement in Regard to RHD2

Firstly we would like to apologise for the delay in getting this statement out.  However, we wanted to wait until we were in a position to provide all the information people need, including information on when and where the vaccine will be available to members of the public in West Wales.

It has also come to our attention that there is still a lot of misinformation in regard to the standard Nobiva Myxo-RHD vaccine and the risks in regard to unvaccinated rabbits and even more confusion over RHD2.

Myxomatosis has been a danger to both wild and domestic rabbits since its release into the wild rabbit population in the late 50’s.  Originally released as a way to control wild rabbit populations, this disease still remains prevalent today affecting both wild and domestic rabbits.  Once contracted there is little hope of recovery and for domestic rabbits the kindest option is euthanasia to prevent the slow and painful death which affects wild populations.

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD), previously known as Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD), has been prevalent in the UK since the mid 90’s and again is found in both domestic and wild populations.  Unlike myxomatosis, RHD is a rapid onset disease which quickly kills its host.  This means that the first symptoms of RHD is generally a dead rabbit. Again, like myxomatosis, there is no treatment once a rabbit becomes infected and all you can do, as an owner, is wait for the virus to run its course and pray some rabbits survive. 

THE ONLY WAY TO PROTECT YOUR RABBITS FROM CONTRACTING MYXOMATOSIS AND RHD IS VIA VACCINATION AND YEARLY BOOSTERS.  The combination vaccine (Nobiva Myxo-RHD), to protect against these two diseases, has been available for a number of years and is available in the vast majority of vet surgeries all across the UK. The cost of this vaccine varies from £20-£54 depending on where you live.

It has come to our attention that there is still a lot of confusion over the need to vaccinate against myxomatosis and RHD.  We have even been contacted by a member of the public who was informed via their vet that they don’t need to vaccinate as the rabbits live indoors.  We would like to take this opportunity to give you the correct information.  These diseases are simply like a lottery, a bad lottery, where the ‘winner’ loses their rabbits to a preventable disease.  ALL rabbits are at risk of contracting myxomatosis and RHD.  What we are talking about here is the probability of contracting them.  If you live near a population of wild rabbits the probability increases, if you live near a population of wild rabbits which are infected the probability increases even further.  If your rabbits are house rabbits your probability drops but only by a very small amount.  If you don’t live near a wild rabbit population your probability drops again, and if your rabbits are house rabbits away from a wild population, you have the lowest probability.  This of course is a very simplified way of looking at it, as there are many other factors which influence the probability of your rabbits contracting these diseases, such as the presence of other pets in the home.  Walking your dog near a wild rabbit population is enough to bring either of these diseases into your home.  Cats naturally roam and can easily catch a wild bird that had been near a wild rabbit population a few days prior.  If you forage for your rabbits, if you regularly come into contact with other rabbits or even other animals, where your hay comes from, taking a day trip to a local petting zoo, and even just walking into a pet shop which sells rabbits to buy a bag of food, all of these normal day to day activities alter and affect the probability of your rabbits being infected. 

RHD is one of the worst viruses out there.  It has evolved to survive outside of a host for over 200 days and can live on pretty much any surface at all, this includes shoes, clothes, hay, the feet of wild rodents and birds, grass, dandelion leaves etc.  This means that while direct contact between infected rabbit and uninfected rabbit is the best means for the virus to pass to a new host, it is by far the least common cause of an outbreak in domestic rabbits.  This means that keeping your rabbits indoors just reduces the probability but does NOT become a magical barrier to prevent infection. 

Myxomatosis is spread via direct contact and biting insects.  It does not survive outside the host animal to anywhere near the degree of RHD and, therefore, does pose less risk to domestic rabbits, but again all we have done is reduce probability.  A simple midge on a summer evening, flying in through an open window, is all it takes to infect your beloved pet. While the risks are lower when compared to RHD, the argument against not needing to vaccinate against myxomatosis becomes negated by the fact the Nobiva Myxo-RHD vaccine covers your rabbits against both RHD and Myxomatosis.

So what is RHD2? The RHD virus appears to have mutated into a strain which kills the host more slowly, meaning the virus is present in a single rabbit for a longer period of time increasing the rate of infection between animals.  While it does appear to a have a lower mortality rate than RHD1 it is no less dangerous and needs to be vaccinated against.  The vaccine for RHD2 has also been particularly troublesome and we have to show a great debt of thanks to The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund who have been instrumental in getting this vaccine available the UK.  This has only really happened within the last couple of months.

To make matters worse, many vets are not aware of this new strain of RHD.  We have been aware of concerned rabbit owners, all over the UK, contacting their vets about RHD2, only to be told that they have been covered for the disease with the standard Nobiva Myxo-RHD vaccine.  THIS IS NOT TRUE.  This vaccine only covers RDH1 and DOES NOT protect against RHD2.  Rabbits which were up to date with their Nobiva Myxo-RHD vaccine have been confirmed to die from RHD2 under pathology.

We do know, again confirmed via pathology, that RHD2 is now present within the West Wales area.  This virus is particularly difficult to prevent without vaccination due to its ability to persist in the environment for over 200 days.  The virus can travel on feet, clothing, other animals such as birds and rodents, and even persists on hay and other forage which has come into contact with the infection.    

We have been in communication with our veterinary practice, Priory Vet Ltd., with regard to the RDH2 vaccine and we are pleased to confirm that the vaccine is now available with their wholesaler.  However, the practice needs to apply for a licence to import the vaccine and time is needed for the vaccine to arrive at the practice.  In my last conversation with them we are looking at a wait of at least 2-4 weeks before they have the vaccination available in the practice and you will be able to book an appointment with them.  Please remember that you do also need to continue with the Nobiva Myxo-RHD vaccine.  Again due to the lack of knowledge about these vaccines please be aware that there needs to be at least a 3 week gap between the Nobiva Myxo-RHD vaccine and the RHD2 vaccine and your rabbit will only be protected against all three diseases two weeks after the final injection.

For all rabbit owners we advise you implement strict quarantine until the RHD2 vaccine becomes available.  This means not bringing in any new rabbits, not foraging for foods, and changing clothes before you handle your rabbits.  The recommended disinfectant for both RHD 1&2 is F10 which can be purchased easily from many online retailers. 

For more information on RHD2 we recommend

http://therabbitvet.com/webinar/vhd-rhd-2-update-rabbit-haemorrhagic-disease

http://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk/pdfs/RVHD2.pdf

http://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk/resources/content/leaflet_pdfs/vacination28.8.07.pdf

Some people have questioned the overall need to vaccinate and continue with yearly boosters.  As a working rescue it is of the upmost importance for us to ensure all the rabbits in our care are vaccinated and receive their boosters every 12 months.  In the vast majority of cases rabbits arrive into our care from unknown situations.  We have no way of knowing at the time of arrival if the rabbit in question has come into contact with any of the above diseases.  This means that each new arrival is a potential source of infection for all the other rabbits in our care and the only way we can protect them is via vaccination on arrival and yearly boosters.  As a working rescue we have a much higher probability of infection, simply down to the number of rabbits passing through the centre each year.  Nibbles HQ is also located in a rural area.  While we don’t have a huge population of wild rabbits around us they are here, so again this increases probability.  The only responsible course of action is a vaccination program for all rabbits in our care. 

We also feel very strongly that all domestic rabbits should be vaccinated against these diseases as part of responsible pet ownership.  We are only too aware of the lack of important information given out to new rabbit owners at the time of purchase from pet shops and even in some cases private breeders.  So many new owners are not informed about the need to neuter and vaccinate and maybe, had they been given this advice before the time of purchase, they may well have realised rabbits aren’t the pet for them and walked away.

So if you haven’t had your rabbits vaccinated with the Nobiva Myxo-RHD vaccine to protect against myxomatosis and RHD1 book them in with your vet asap.  Priory Vets Ltd stock this vaccine as a matter of course, so you can call them today on 01239 612479 for their Cardigan branch, 01545 571341 for their Aberaeron branch, and 01239 213103 for their Crymych branch to get your appointment booked and register for a RHD2 vaccine as soon as they arrive at the surgery (remember there needs to be a 3 week grace period between the Nobiva Myxo-RHD vaccine and the Filavac VDH K C + V vaccine)As soon as we have confirmation on the arrival of the Filavac VDH K C + V vaccine which covers for RHD2 we will announce this on our FB page and if your rabbit is already up to date with the Nobiva Myxo-RHD vaccine you will be able to make an appointment with any of the branches to protect your rabbit from RHD2.