Tip of the Month

Rabbit calicivirus in Australia



There are a number of RHDV strains present in Australia;

  • RHDV 1 - Original virus released in 1995
  • RHDV1A - Variant of type 1 isolated in Sydney in 2014
  • RHDV1 - K5 Variant (released in March 2017)
  • RHDV 2 - First recorded in mid 2015 in Australia, 2010 in Europe
  • RCV - A1 Non pathogenic virus present in wild population

There has been some confusion between the new variant of RHDV1 (K5) and the discovery in 2015 of RHDV2 in wild and pet rabbits in the ACT and subsequently NSW, Victoria, SA, NT, Tasmania and WA.  This new virus is called RHDV2, but is a different virus to RHDV1 and K5.

The pathogenic strains of the virus (RHDV1, RHDV1 K5 variant and RHDV2) are considered contagious and can be transmitted via; direct contact with infected rabbits, fomites, transmission via equipment and clothing, transmission by vectors including flies. Use of a parvovirus type cleaning protocol is recommended after suspicious cases.

It is recommended that all domestic rabbit owners be reminded to vaccinate their rabbits prior to the release of RHDV1 K5 and/or ensure their animals’ vaccinations are up-to-date.

The Department of Primary Industries recommend that rabbit owners take the following extra precautions:

  • Prevent direct and indirect contact between domestic and wild rabbits.
  • Avoid cutting grass and feeding it to rabbits if there is the risk of contamination from wild rabbits.
  • Wash hands, with warm soapy water between handling rabbits.
  • Good insect control is also important and will help reduce the risks of introduction of both RHDV and myxomatosis. Insect control could include insect proofing the hutch or keeping the rabbits indoors.
  • Infected rabbits should be isolated and disposed of in a manner that will minimise environmental contamination.
  • All cages and equipment should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Disinfectants that can be used to decontaminate any equipment include 10 % bleach, 10 % sodium hydroxide, or parvocide disinfectants. If using disinfectants material safety data sheets must be available and consulted, prior to use. Autoclaving will also kill the virus.

RHDV1 K5 is not a new virus; it is a Korean variant of the existing (Czech) virus already widespread in Australia.

RHDV1 K5 will be released across more than 600 sites within Australia and is being coordinated through the State and Territory Governments (see Table 1 for contacts).