Calicivirus release to go ahead despite RSPCA delay suggestion

Sheep Central February 20, 2017

A NATIONAL release of a new calicivirus agent against rabbits will go ahead next month despite the RSPCA suggesting it be delayed.

The RSPCA is urging rabbit owners to make sure their pets are vaccinated ahead of the planned release of RHDV1K5 – a new variant of the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus – next month.

RSPCA animal welfare advocate Dr Di Evans said a delay in the RHDV1K5 release would be justified.

“We would prefer a delay, but we’re not saying we demand a delay or think it should stop, we just feel that based on the concerns with the results of the trials looking at vaccine efficacy.

“As well as the fact that it has only been 12 months since RHDV2 was circulating out there, do we really know what we need to know about the impact of RHDV2 on K5 and are we throwing resources away when we’ve got a very pathogenic strain out there.”

Dr Evans said in Europe where RHDV2 has been active for a few years, it had taken over the RHDV1 strains. She said the RSPCA is pushing urgently for a trivalent vaccine to be developed to protect domestic rabbits.

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The RHDV1K5 strain of calicivirus, which originates in Korea, is being released to manage the growing wild rabbit population and is fatal to rabbits without immunity.

The RSPCA has a number of concerns regarding the release of RHDV1K5 and would prefer to see it delayed until the full efficacy of the available vaccine can be determined and the impact of the RHDV2 can be better understood.

While the currently available Cylap vaccine has shown some protection against RHDV1K5 in small pilot trials, the RSPCA believed further trials must be undertaken to provide real certainty regarding its effectiveness.

The RSPCA also believed there is an urgent need for the development of a trivalent vaccine to safeguard against the three main RHDV strains which pose a risk to domestic rabbits.

Additionally, since the presence of the (previously unreleased) RHDV2 strain was confirmed in a wild rabbit in Canberra in 2015, there have been many reports of vaccinated rabbits dying from the disease.

While RHDV2 is still in circulation and killing wild and domestic rabbits, it will be difficult to evaluate the true impact of K5’s release.

The RSPCA believed that, where the need to control wild animal populations has been proven, methods used should be humane, targeted and effective.

A Department of Agriculture and Water spokesperson said the RSPCA has not formally approached the government on this topic.

“The release of RHDV1 K5 is going ahead in the first week of March 2017.

“Preparations are well underway in over 600 community sites across the country for the release.”

The spokesperson said there is a good scientific basis for release in March.

“Bait acceptance is usually high, sufficient flies are usually present to transmit the virus between rabbits, and few kittens are present.

“Kittens have higher survival rates from RHDV infection than adult rabbits, and kittens that survive infection during a virus release become immune for life.”

The spokesperson said the department had noted that concerns have been raised about the effectiveness of the currently available vaccines.

“However, vaccination remains the best protection against RHDV1 K5 for domestic rabbits and rabbit owners should ensure their pets are vaccinated.

“The Cylap vaccine that has been available for many years in Australia to protect against RHDV1 already present in Australia has been demonstrated to be effective against the RHDV1 K5 strain,” the spokesperson said.

“Pet owners should also speak with their veterinarian for further advice on how best to protecting their pets.”


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  1. Toby Jones, February 24, 2017

    Keeping rabbits in Queensland as domestic pets is banned. Big fines. Vermin.

  2. Denise Godridge, February 23, 2017

    Please delay the release of K5 until Cylap has been tested over a longer term. Better still provide a vaccine specifically aimed at this disease. Even better, a vaccine that protects against all three strains – RVHD1 and 2 and K5. Thankfully I am in the United Kingdom and I can vaccinate my rabbits for RVHD 1 and 2 and myxomatosis. But how long before K5 gets here? The virus can survive in the environment for months and doesn’t need a flying insect to transmit it.

    When is the Australian government going to wake up to the fact that pet rabbits and meat rabbits are not the pest that wild rabbits are and allow proper protection for them. Cylap has not been used in the UK for years as there are better vaccines available for RVHD 1.

  3. Sera Smith, February 22, 2017

    Please push harder to postpone this release. I am trying to grow meat rabbits. I lost 132 over seven long horrible weeks before, during and after Christmas to RHDV2. Jobs and growth? My job died and my growth is stunted! Please hold off and make an effective vaccine! I have 12 rabbits left…. I expect they will die from RHDV1aK5 very soon even though they are vaccinated with Cylap.

  4. Lynne Thiselton, February 22, 2017

    Our pet rabbits are family, like any cat or dog, and deserve to be protected. Our rabbits are loved, desexed, and vaccinated with what is available. Why should they be put at unnecessary risk? The government is acting unfairly, irresponsibly and with no heart. Shame on them.

  5. Nardi Rowe, February 22, 2017

    Fully support Marjorie’s sentiments above. Our government must provide vaccines that fully protect our domestic rabbits, including not only for this new virus K5 but for the RHD-2 Calici 2 virus for which there is no vaccine and also a vaccine for myxomatosis as they have in England.

  6. Marjorie Prettyman, February 22, 2017

    My husband and I adopted two beautiful house bunnies two years ago. These bunnies are neutered and vaccinated with the only vaccine the government will allow in Australia. With the release of this K5 in a week or so we and hundreds of rabbit owners stand to lose our pet rabbits to this vaccine which hasn’t even been tested for long enough.
    Shame on our government and every other so-called animal rights type group who will not give us any help whatsoever. Pet rabbits are not pests, the only pests are those in charge in our government.

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