Deadly Virus in Rabbits

There are viruses lurking everywhere, some benign or dormant, others deadly.

Myxomatosis, a pox disease is on the loose, striking rabbits. It is almost always fatal.

Myxomatosis is transmitted by fleas, mosquitoes, fur mites, black flies and other biting insects.

Symptoms can be seen quickly – swollen, pink-tinged eyes and genitals, also the rabbit’s face and lips. These occur within 3 days of infection.

As the disease progresses, the rabbit becomes lethargic, runs a high fever, has difficulty breathing and often has seizures. Shortly thereafter, the rabbit will become blind.

Only about one percent of rabbits with the virus survive. It is usually fatal between 8 to 15 days.

The current outbreak is in Santa Cruz, California. Previous outbreaks were seen from Oregon to California and south to Baja and Mexico, all along a narrow strip of the western coastline.

Initial discovery of myxomatosis was in Uruguay in 1896. It has spread to parts of Chile, Europe and Australia.

In the 1950s, humans introduced the virus in Australia to cut down the population of wild rabbits. The virus spread so quickly that it decimated the rabbit population, with only a small number surviving and replenishing the rabbit population.

The virus was introduced in Belgium and England in 1953 to lower their numbers of wild rabbits, killing most of them.

There are several strains of the virus, but the one on the west coast of the United States appears to be the most virulent.

There is no treatment and no vaccine for myxomatosis at present. If you have a healthy pet rabbit, the only way to prevent him/her from becoming infected with the virus is to keep your pet indoors. Screen your windows to help keeps insects out and keep your rabbit away from anyone who has come in contact with an infected rabbit.

In any case, your rabbit has a better chance of surviving predators, foul weather, toxins, bacterial infections, if kept inside the house.

I find it very distressing and sad that humans, by introducing the virus, have caused such tragedy.

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