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Managing Our Natural Resources
Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment

Home > Managing Our Natural Resources > Management of Wildlife > Release of Rabbit Calicivirus Disease

Release of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (Rabbit Calicivirus Disease)

European rabbits are introduced animals which have caused large scale economic and environmental damage in Australia. They compete with livestock for pasture and decimate food crops. The wild rabbit population is substantial in many areas of Tasmania, particularly the urban environment.

DPIPWE undertakes rabbit control by releasing Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease, also known as Rabbit Calicivirus Disease when rabbit numbers are causing significant impacts.

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (Rabbit Calicivirus Disease)

Delivery method for Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD)

RHD can be introduced into rabbit populations by trapping rabbits and injecting them with the virus or by introducing the virus on a bait. (See information on the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority website.)

In Tasmania, the virus will be introduced on carrot bait following pre-feeding to attract rabbits to the bait. Use of the virus will be restricted to trained DPIPWE staff and other people who are deemed competent.

RHD is widespread in rabbit populations in Tasmania and introduction of virus may not be a satisfactory control option in all situations. It should be considered for use in areas only where other techniques are unsuitable, and there has been no evidence of RHD for over 12 months.


Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) is a viral disease which affects only European rabbits. The virus probably originated from a less virulent form present in rabbit populations for many years. It was first reported in China in 1984 and soon after in other countries in Asia and Europe and in Mexico.

The virus was introduced to Australia in 1995 and Tasmania in 1997. Since then it has since spread throughout most of the country, mainly by natural spread.

Effects on rabbits

An infected rabbit with the virus will develop the disease within one to three days, and more than 75 per cent of infected susceptible rabbits will die. RHD infects many organs including the lungs, gut and liver causing acute hepatitis that can kill the rabbit within 48 hours by precipitating a rapid and widespread blood clotting mechanism.

Generally, only rabbits older than 12 weeks are susceptible to the virus. Rabbits younger than 12 weeks that become infected are less likely to die from it than older rabbits. Young rabbits that survive infection become immune adults.

It should be noted that some rabbits die very quickly from the disease and can look fairly normal externally. They may also show very few visible changes to the internal organs.

Effects on other species

There is no scientific evidence, here or overseas, that RHD infects other animals. Australia has tested for the virus in at least 33 representative animal species, domesticated and wild, native and feral. They were all given large doses of the virus and there was no sign of infection. Worldwide 43 different species have been tested and the virus did not grow in any of them.

Any effect on humans was considered in great detail by the government and health authorities from the outset. A major study was conducted in which blood from 259 people exposed to RHD-infected rabbits was tested. There was no evidence of infection. International laboratories in many different countries confirm that human infection with rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease is not known to occur and that no ill effects have been seen, even in people working very closely with the virus.

Vaccine for domestic rabbits

Effective vaccines to protect rabbits from RHD have been developed and are applied through local veterinary clinics. Pet rabbit owners should consult their local vet about vaccination.

The RHD vaccine is safe to use on pet and farmed rabbits. As with any vaccine for animals or humans, only vaccinate your rabbit when it is healthy. Veterinarians can advise on other issues to be aware of when having your pet vaccinated.

See also:
Pindone for Rabbit Control
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Further information:

Telephone: David White (Devonport) (03) 6421 7635, Lyndon Iles (Mt Pleasant) (03) 6336 5341 or Glenn Graves (New Town) (03) 6233 6884.

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