The traditional epidemiological triad model holds that clinical infectious diseases result from the interaction of the pathogen, the host and the environment. The initial impact in the 1980s of rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD) on wild and domestic rabbits slowly abated over time in rabbitries as a consequence of the use of efficient vaccination campaigns and other control measures. However, in 2010, a new genotype named RHDV2 or RHDVb, and more recently GI.2, emerged in France with an unknown origin, but linked to the European (Mediterranean) area. This new genotype, which possibly represents a new serotype, was detected both in wild and farm animals, including rabbits vaccinated against RHDV GI.1 (former G1-G6) or naturally immunised, and showed the relevant impact of this disease, particularly on the fragile equilibrium of the Mediterranean ecosystem. Indeed, RHD is still one of the most (if not the most) devastating diseases of rabbits, with high mortality rates occurring within a few days and with an outstanding ability of transmission at long distance.
The main goal of this project is to improve the control of RHD, one of the worst rabbit diseases, associated with severe economic and production losses in the meat rabbit industry, as well as high mortalities of wild animals. Indeed, the European rabbit plays a key ecological role in Mediterranean ecosystems, it is one of the most important small game species in several European countries, and in African countries small family rabbit units have been promoted in several programmes aiming at reducing poverty.
The main objective of this project is to increase interdisciplinary scientific and technical knowledge on the epidemiological characteristics of RHD and its etiological agent, the rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV). This will contribute to develop effective preventive actions, capable to reduce the socio-economic impact of future outbreaks or of the emergence of new genotypes of unknown origin. This is especially relevant for African countries of the Mediterranean basin where rabbits have been promoted for poverty reduction programmes due to the “low investment and early benefits, and subsistence on renewable resources for feeding, housing and general management” (Oseni&Lukefahr, World Rabbit Science, 2014).
- determine the current extent and impact of RHD, along with the identification and distribution of susceptible species and their role in disease dissemination and persistence, particularly as spillover agents for domestic animals - develop more effective, accurate, sensitive and rapid detection tools - develop vaccines against GI.2 that will reduce transmission, but more importantly, control mortality - characterise the immune response triggered upon GI.2 infection - produce a manual of procedures and develop a specific intervention plan to prevent and/or control RHD outbreaks
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