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.
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.”