World Lagomorph Society
World Lagomorph Society
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Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 (RHDV2; GI.2) in Ireland Focusing on Wild Irish Hares (Lepus timidus hibernicus): An Overview of the First Outbreaks and Contextual Review
A. W. Byrne, F. Marnell, D. Barrett, N. Reid, R. E. B. Hanna, M. C. McElroy and M. Casey

Rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2; GI.2) is a pathogenic lagovirus that emerged in 2010, and which now has a global distribution. Outbreaks have been associated with local population declines in several lagomorph species, due to rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD)-associated mortality raising concerns for its potential negative impact on threatened or vulnerable wild populations. The Irish hare (Lepus timidus hibernicus) is endemic to Ireland, and is of conservation interest. The first cases of RHDV2 in Ireland were reported in domestic rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in 2016, soon followed by the first known case in a wild rabbit also in 2016, from a population reported to be experiencing high fatalities. During summer 2019, outbreaks in wild rabbits were confirmed in several locations throughout Ireland. Six cases of RHDV2 in wild hares were confirmed between July and November 2019, at four locations. Overall, 27 cases in wildlife were confirmed in 2019 on the island of Ireland, with a predominantly southern distribution. Passive surveillance suggests that the Irish hare is susceptible to lethal RHDV2 infection, and that spillover infection to hares is geographically widespread in eastern areas of Ireland at least, but there is a paucity of data on epidemiology and population impacts. A literature review on RHD impact in closely related Lepus species suggests that intraspecific transmission, spillover transmission, and variable mortality occur in hares, but there is variability in reported resistance to severe disease and mortality amongst species. Several key questions on the impact of the pathogen in Irish hares remain. Surveillance activities throughout the island of Ireland will be important in understanding the spread of infection in this novel host.

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Document Information
Publish date: February 2022
Edition: Pathogens