Seasonality and risk factors for myxomatosis in pet rabbits in Great Britain


Myxomatosis is a highly contagious, frequently fatal viral disease affecting both wild and domesticated European rabbits across many areas of the world. Here we used electronic health records (EHRs) collected from pet rabbits attending a sentinel voluntary network of 191 veterinary practices across Great Britain (GB) between March 2014 and June 2019 to identify new features of this disease’s epidemiology. From a total of 89,408 rabbit consultations, text mining verified by domain experts identified 207 (0.23%) cases where myxomatosis was the only differential diagnosis recorded by the attending practitioner. Cases occurred in all months but February and were distributed across the country. Consistent with studies in wild rabbits, the majority of cases occurred between August and November. However, there was also evidence for considerable variation between years. A nested case control study identified important risk factors for myxomatosis within this pet animal population including season, sex, age, vaccination status and distance to likely wild rabbit habitats. Female entire rabbits were twice as likely to be a case (odds ratio (OR) 1.98, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.26-3.13, p = 0.003), suggesting a novel role for behaviour in driving transmission from wild to domesticated rabbits. Vaccination had the largest protective effect with vaccinated rabbits being 8.3 times less likely to be a case than unvaccinated rabbits (OR = 0.12, 95% CI 0.06-0.21, p=<0.001). Using a health informatics approach, we add new understanding to seasonal patterns of myxomatosis, confirming existing risk factors and identifying new ones that together can inform targeted health messages to rabbit owners and veterinary practitioners aimed at reducing the impact of this preventable disease. The surveillance of disease in pet rabbit sentinels also provides novel insight to disease in wild sympatric rabbit populations where infection is maintained.

Preventative Veterinary Medicine