Myxomatosis

Myxomatosis is primarily a disease of the European rabbit caused by infection with the myxoma virus. The virus causes benign fibromas in its natural rabbit hosts in California, Central America, and South America. However, in the European rabbit, a severe and usually fatal infection with enlarging skin lesions and generalized viremia occurs. The myxoma virus was introduced to Australia in 1950 and to Europe in 1953. The aim of these introductions was to control burgeoning populations of European rabbits.

The virus is mechanically transmitted to rabbits by various blood-feeding arthropods, particularly mosquitoes. However, the European rabbit flea (S. cuniculi) is also a proven vector, at least in Britain, where this flea occurs naturally, and in Australia, where it was introduced in 1966. Although it is an inefficient vector, an Australian sticktight flea (E. myrmecobii) also can transmit the myxoma virus to rabbits. Infection with this virus apparently does not adversely affect these flea vectors. As with most other flea-transmitted pathogens, myxoma virus remains confined to the gut and mouthparts of S. cuniculi. Survival of the virus for 3—4 months in infected fleas has been demonstrated.

Because strains of the virus differ in virulence while rabbit populations differ in their susceptibility to this pathogen, the success of this virus in controlling rabbits has been variable. When the virus was first introduced to Australia and Europe it was very effective in culling wild rabbits; today, however, many rabbit populations in both

Australia and Europe have developed a resistance to several strains of the virus.

An overview of flea-transmitted myxomatosis is provided by Mead-Briggs (1977), and details on myxomatosis in general are provided by Fenner and Ross (1994).

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