In May 2015 a different viral form of RHDV, known as RHDV2, was detected on mainland Australia and then in Tasmania in 2016. It is not known how RHDV2 entered Australia, or Tasmania.
RHDV2 is a different type of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus than the current strains used in Tasmania for wild rabbit control – RHDV1 and RHDV1-K5. As a consequence, the impact of RHDV2 on rabbits is different and there is no vaccine currently registered for use in Australia.
The impact of RHDV2 on pet rabbits and rabbit farms can be significant, causing death in rabbit kittens as young as 3-4 weeks. The RHDV1 strains tend not to affect rabbits younger than 12 weeks, and kittens can develop immunity once infected.
There is no Government release program for RHDV2 in Tasmania or on mainland Australia.
Research is currently underway to determine the efficacy of RHDV2 as a wild rabbit control measure. However, before registration by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), efficacy and matters relating to animal welfare (amongst other things) will be fully investigated.
Is there a vaccine available in Australia for RHDV2?
Currently there is no vaccine registered for use in Australia for RHDV2. Researchers in Australia are working on a vaccine for RHDV2, and that work is progressing well.
Whilst there are RHDV2 vaccines in use in Europe and New Zealand they cannot simply be imported and used in Australia without going through an approval process. That approval process takes time; great care needs to be taken to be sure that the vaccine is safe to use and is effective in Australia’s diverse environment and climate.
The development of a vaccine suited to Australian conditions will provide a more effective vaccine that will protect domestic rabbits.
It is recommended that you seek advice from your local veterinarian around existing vaccination options.
What else can be done to protect domestic rabbits from RHDV2?
Having sound biosecurity measures in place is essential. The Protecting your domestic rabbit(s) from Calicivirus webpage recommends a range of biosecurity measures to put in place to protect your domestic rabbit(s).
What to do if you suspect a domestic rabbit has died from RHDV1 or RHDV2
CSIRO undertakes free testing for RHDV viruses. Instructions for requesting a test are available at https://research.csiro.au/rhdv/testing/. The tests do require liver tissue to be collected. If you are not comfortable carrying out this procedure it is suggested that you contact your local vet and seek their assistance.
Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (2020): “The latest research findings about the rabbit virus, RHDV2”
RabbitScan - Record Rabbit activity in RabbitScan. Includes a link to also request a sampling kit to test for RHDV infection as part of reporting disease. https://www.feralscan.org.au/rabbitscan/
Vet Voice (2020): “Rabbit calicivirus in Australia”. https://www.vetvoice.com.au/ec/diseases/rabbit-calicivirus/ (Australian Veterinary Association)