England

Deadly RHD rabbit virus shuts UK competition shows

Baby Sussex rabbit Image copyright John Daniels
Image caption Judy Le Marchant will not enter her Sussex rabbit at the Devon County Show

A new strain of a deadly rabbit virus has forced the closure of county show competitions across England.

Events in Devon, Cornwall and Cheshire have all banned bunnies following outbreaks of the mutation of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease, known as RHD-2.

There is currently no licensed vaccine in the UK for the new strain.

"The fear factor is we don't know how it's spreading," said Neill Gardner, chairman of the British Rabbit Council (BRC).

'Just drop dead'

Since March, the BRC has received reports of RHD-2 across Cheshire, Devon, Leicestershire, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Leeds and Moray.

With the former strain "there was usually a visible sign, like bloody discharge from the nostrils", Mr Gardner said.

"Now they just drop dead".

A vaccine for the new strain is expected to be licensed in the UK in the next month, Mr Gardener added.

Image copyright Judy Le Marchant
Image caption Miss Piggy's grandson was due to enter the Devon County Show

What is RHD?

  • RHD is a highly infectious and fatal disease which affects wild and domestic rabbits
  • The original strain of RHD is endemic in the UK but was brought under relative control by vaccination in the 1990s
  • In November 2015, the new strain of RHD was first confirmed in the UK
  • Although less virulent than RHD-1, RHD-2 is more difficult to diagnose in the early stages, meaning rabbits can carry the disease for a longer
  • RHD-2 is common in mainland Europe, particularly in France where it was first identified in 2010

Source: BRC

'Lumps and scabs'

But Judy Le Marchant, who had planned to enter her prize winning rare breeds in the Devon county show, said vaccination was "not the entire solution".

The RHD-1 vaccine was already "expensive", and its carrier could produce "bald patches, lumps and scabs which are not desirable in show rabbits", she said.

Harry Powell, aged 11, and his 8-year-old brother Nicholas, were also "very upset" when they could not enter their thrianta rabbits at the show.

"It's really annoying when you've pumped yourself up," he said.

Harry, who would have travelled from Middlesex for the show, said he loved his rabbits, who "only get stroppy if they don't like the food".

Show secretary Ollie Allen said although the disease posed "no threat to human health", the rabbit competition would have risked spreading the disease amongst rabbits.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the people did not have to report outbreaks to the government but the shows were "taking sensible precautionary measures".

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