First case of rab­bit dis­ease in Wicklow

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - NEWS - BY MYLES BUCHANAN

A DIS­EASE fa­tal to rab­bits and hares which has now been found in the wild Ire­land, was first de­tected in County Wicklow.

Rab­bit haem­or­rhagic dis­ease (RHD) was first re­ported in do­mes­tic (farmed) rab­bits in China in 1984 killing mil­lions of an­i­mals within one year of its dis­cov­ery. By 1986 this vi­ral dis­ease had been found in con­ti­nen­tal Europe and has since spread glob­ally lead­ing to sig­nif­i­cant mor­tal­ity in wild pop­u­la­tions of rab­bits.

In 2010, a new more vir­u­lent strain of this virus (RHD2) emerged in France. It causes death within a few days of in­fec­tion with sick an­i­mals hav­ing swollen eye­lids, par­tial paral­y­sis and bleed­ing from the eyes and mouth. In the lat­ter stages close to death, an­i­mals ex­hibit un­usual be­hav­iour emerging from cover into the open and con­vuls­ing or fit­ting be­fore dy­ing.

The dis­ease was re­ported in Ire­land from do­mes­tic rab­bits in 2018, but had never been re­ported in wild rab­bits un­til a re­cent in­ci­dent was con­firmed in Co Wicklow. That was fol­lowed up by con­firmed case in a wild rab­bit in Co Clare.

This week the virus was con­firmed in a hare in Co Wex­ford.

In all cases, the an­i­mals were tested at De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture, Food and Ma­rine Lab­o­ra­to­ries where RHD2 was sub­se­quently con­firmed. All three lo­ca­tions con­tinue to sup­port ap­par­ently healthy wild pop­u­la­tions but NPWS Con­ser­va­tion Rangers con­tinue to mon­i­tor the sit­u­a­tion and re­main con­scious of the sit­u­a­tion in the UK, where mass mor­tal­i­ties have been re­ported.

Dr Fer­dia Mar­nell of the NPWS Sci­en­tific Unit said: ‘Rab­bits are cen­tral to wild ecosys­tems, be­ing the main food for many preda­tors from stoats to ea­gles that in turn reg­u­late other an­i­mal pop­u­la­tions. A de­cline in our wild rab­bits will have nu­mer­ous knock-on con­se­quences. Of fur­ther con­cern is the po­ten­tial for the dis­ease to spread through the Ir­ish hare pop­u­la­tion.’

The Ir­ish hare is na­tive to Ire­land and found nowhere else. Should this dis­ease prove as in­fec­tious here as it has done else­where in Europe, the im­pact on the hare could be catas­trophic.

The De­part­ment has de­cided to sus­pend the li­cences is­sued to the Ir­ish Cours­ing Club to capture and tag hares for the 2019/20 hare cours­ing sea­son with im­me­di­ate ef­fect un­til a clearer un­der­stand­ing of the ex­tent, spread and im­pli­ca­tions of the RHD2 virus emerges.

Dr Mar­nell stressed: ‘the Rab­bit Haem­or­rhagic dis­ease presents ab­so­lutely no threat to hu­man health and it is en­tirely safe to han­dle in­fected or re­cently dead rab­bits or hares pro­vided nor­mal hygiene is fol­lowed.’

The dis­ease is highly con­ta­gious and can be spread di­rectly be­tween an­i­mals, through the fae­ces and urine of in­fected an­i­mals, as well as by in­sects and on hu­man cloth­ing. In ad­di­tion the in­cu­ba­tion pe­riod may last sev­eral days and ap­par­ently un­in­fected an­i­mals may in fact be car­ri­ers. Un­der th­ese cir­cum­stances the catch­ing of hares in nets, their trans­porta­tion in boxes and the col­lec­tion and hold­ing of hares in con­fined ar­eas can all be con­sid­ered to in­crease the risk of dis­ease spread.

The pub­lic are be­ing asked to re­port any suspected sightings of dis­eased rab­bits and hares as soon as pos­si­ble to help ef­forts to mon­i­tor and con­trol the dis­ease.

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