A deadly virus is killing wild rabbits in North America

Release time:2020-05-21 Publisher:Lanka Voice

A deadly virus is spreading quickly among wild rabbits in southwestern North America, threatening populations and possibly endangered species. Last week the virus, which causes a hemorrhagic disease, reached Southern California.
“The outlook right now is so unbelievably bleak,” says Hayley Lanier, a mammologist at the University of Oklahoma. “We’re simply left to watch the wave spread out and worry about imperiled species in its path.”
Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus first spread worldwide in the 1980s, devastating domestic rabbit populations in China and Europe. It raced through Australia, where feral rabbits had flourished after being introduced in the 18th century. Populations began to recover, but then a new strain emerged in France in 2010 that also kills wild species.
Strains of this new pathogen—rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2, also called L. europaeus/GI.2)—are more prone to recombination, which could explain the broader range of hosts, says Joana Abrantes, a researcher in virus evolution at the Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources in Portugal. The new strain is less deadly in adults, but unlike its predecessor it also kills young rabbits. After the virus hammered populations in the Iberian Peninsula, killing 60% to 70%, two predators that depend rabbits also declined: the Spanish imperial eagle by 45% and the Iberian lynx by 65%.
Both types of RHDV are extremely infectious. They also persist in the environment, surviving in dead animals for at least 3 months. Predators and insects can spread it through their feces. The virus is now poised to spread throughout North America, says Robyn Hall, a veterinary virologist and epidemiologist with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, where RHDV2 sped cross-country in 18 months between 2015 and 2016.

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