Immunological cross-protection between different rabbit hemorrhagic disease viruses-implications for rabbit biocontrol and vaccine development.
The use of rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) as a biocontrol agent to control feral rabbit populations in Australia, in combination with circulating endemic strains, provides a unique environment to observe the interactions between different lagoviruses competing for the same host. Following the arrival of RHDV2 (GI.2) in Australia, it became necessary to investigate the potential for immunological cross-protection between different variants, and the implications of this for biocontrol programs and vaccine development. Laboratory rabbits of various immune status-(1) rabbits with no detectable immunity against RHDV; (2) rabbits with experimentally acquired immunity after laboratory challenge; (3) rabbits immunised with a GI.2-specific or a multivalent RHDV inactivated virus prototype vaccine; or (4) rabbits with naturally acquired immunity-were challenged with one of three different RHDV variants (GI.1c, GI.1a or GI.2). The degree of cross-protection observed in immune rabbits was associated with the variant used for challenge, infectious dose of the virus and age, or time since acquisition of the immunity, at challenge. The immune status of feral rabbit populations should be determined prior to intentional RHDV release because of the high survival proportions in rabbits with pre-existing immunity. In addition, to protect domestic rabbits in Australia, a multivalent RHDV vaccine should be considered because of the limited cross-protection observed in rabbits given monovalent vaccines.