DEVASTATING: Fran Boston has just watched 80 of her rabbits drop dead from the virus RHDv2 causes them to hemorrhage internally and seize and drown in their own blood.
DEVASTATING: Fran Boston has just watched 80 of her rabbits drop dead from the virus RHDv2 causes them to hemorrhage internally and seize and drown in their own blood. Marc Stapelberg

HEARTBREAKING LOSS: Rabbit virus kills more than 60 pets

Rabbits devastated by virus: Fran Boston has just watched 80 of her rabbits drop dead from the virus RHDv2 causes them to hemorrhage internally and seize and drown in their own blood.

A LISMORE woman has been left distraught after her many pet rabbits, including rare-breeds were wiped out by what she referred to as "Ebola for rabbits" - a virus which was released to curb growing populations of feral rabbits.

Before last Tuesday Fran Boston of the Northern NSW Rabbit Club had 80 healthy rabbits of all breeds and ages.

Now she's left with less than 15, the death toll rising each day.

The cause of the devastating wipeout - Rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) caused by the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (strain RHDV2).

No vaccine is available in Australia that specifically protects against RHDV2, and Ms Boston is asking why Australia cant trial the vaccines from overseas.

She said her first call for one was three years ago, when the presence of the (previously unreleased) RHDV2 strain was confirmed in a wild rabbit in Canberra in 2015.

"I understand the pest rabbit is really bad but I started a rabbit club to get people to hop bunnies, take their bunnies places and I recommend desexing and vaccinating," Ms Boston said.

"I vaccinated half my shed and they've gone. I've probably got 10 rabbits left now, it's horrific.

"I cant believe the speed of transmission. My pet rabbits, my hoppers are just gone.

 

Lismore woman Fran Boston of the Northern NSW Rabbit Club is mourning the loss of more than 60 rabbits of all breeds and ages after they were infected with calicivirus RHDV2.
Lismore woman Fran Boston of the Northern NSW Rabbit Club is mourning the loss of more than 60 rabbits of all breeds and ages after they were infected with calicivirus RHDV2. Fran Boston

"I don't want to stop the feral pest program but I am a little bit concerned because we are playing with virus' that are in the same category as Ebola. I am worried about these viruses - Will they mutate? Will they affect me? I'm breathing in a virus that is killing an animal in an hour to five days."

Numerous other countries have vaccines for the strain, but Australia is yet to trial any.

Ms Boston said she would pay big bucks to trial these vaccines in Australia after losing vaccinated rabbits and numerous breeds.

RHDV damages internal organs such as the liver and intestines and may cause bleeding. Signs include fever, restlessness, lethargy and poor appetite with bleeding from the nose and/or blood on the floor where rabbits are housed. Often infected rabbits will show no signs and die suddenly.

 

"I hear them whimpering and crying, I've even heard some of them scream. I cant stop it," Ms Boston said.

"I was with the vet when the autopsies were done. If you and I had the damage that those poor rabbits have inside you would be on a morphine pump. It's horrific.

"Their livers are completely haemorrhaged, they have blood all around the lining of their abdomen, their lungs filled up with blood and then they have strokes, seizures and die.

"I want a vaccine. Let us try the overseas vaccines. Let us in Australia have one."

 

Lismore woman Fran Boston of the Northern NSW Rabbit Club is mourning the loss of more than 60 rabbits of all breeds and ages after they were infected with calicivirus RHDV2.
Lismore woman Fran Boston of the Northern NSW Rabbit Club is mourning the loss of more than 60 rabbits of all breeds and ages after they were infected with calicivirus RHDV2. Fran Boston

All RHDV strains can spread easily from infected rabbits in droppings, urine, secretions from the eyes and nose, and at mating. Spread can also occur from contaminated objects such as food, clothing, cages, equipment, insects (especially flies), birds and rodents.

The Northern Star contacted NSW Department of Primary Industries and North Coast Local Land services but neither gave comment before deadline.