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Protect rabbits from killer virus; RECORD PETS.

Byline: By NEIL McINTOSH

IT is strange that this year's wet summer has had such an impact on a disease that was initially identified more than a century ago.

Myxomatosis was first seen in laboratory rabbits in Uruguay in 1896 but the local cottontail rabbits were largely unaffected.

The European rabbit, on the other hand, can be devastated by the myxoma virus.

Myxomatosis was field tested in Australia in 1938 in an attempt to subdue the rampant rabbit population.

When it was finally released into the rabbit population in 1950, it reduced the number of wild bunnies from 600million to 100 million in just two years. That's a lot of dead rabbits.

By 1953, myxomatosis was in Britain. Some of you will still remember rabbits sitting hunched and motionless in the most unusual of places, just waiting to die.

Faced by the disease now, a pet rabbit has little chance of survival.

This year's wet weather has increased the number of fleas and midges that can carrythe virus and outbreaks haveoccurred all over the country.

The name gives a clue to the type of illness the virus causes.

Myxomatosis is from the Greek, meaning "mucus" and "to bleed". The initial symptoms are conjunctivitis and puffiness around the eyes. Presented for treatment at an early stage this can be mistaken for simple bacterial conjunctivitis.

Pretty soon, however, swelling around the genitals and head occurs and the patient becomes dull, listless and lethargic.

Appetite diminishes, skin swelling progresses and secondary bacterial infections, such as pneumonia and skin suppuration, sometimes bring a rapid death. Otherwise, very few rabbits survive and usually take 13 days to die.

Pet rabbits living outside are at greatest risk. In particular, if they are infested with rabbit fleas or come into contact with wild rabbits, hares, hedgehogs or there are foxes nosing around, then myxomatosis is likely.

Remember that dogs and cats can harbour fleas and dogs who hunt rabbits are an added risk factor. House rabbits are less at risk but they do get the disease.

Prevention is simple. Vaccinate your rabbit. Vaccination can begin at six weeks of age and it must be done every six months.

One tenth of the vaccine dose has to be given into the skin not just under it. Use effectiveflea preparations and fit insect screens to the doors of hutches. Don't be left devastated by myxomatosis.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 6, 2007
Words:396
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