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Field and experimental data indicate that the eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) is susceptible to infection with European brown hare syndrome (EBHS) virus and not with rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) virus

Lavazza, Antonio, Cavadini, Patrizia, Barbieri, Ilaria, Tizzani, Paolo, Pinheiro, Ana, Abrantes, Joana, Esteves, Pedro J, Grilli, Guido, Gioia, Emanuela, Zanoni, Mariagrazia, Meneguz, Pier Giuseppe, Guitton, Jean-Sébastien, Marchandeau, Stéphane, Chiari, Mario, Capucci, Lorenzo
Veterinary research 2015 v.46 no.1 pp. 13
European brown hare syndrome virus, Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus, Sylvilagus floridanus, biological resistance, field experimentation, hares, mortality, rabbits, risk, seroconversion, seroprevalence, viruses, Italy
The eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) is an American lagomorph. In 1966, it was introduced to Italy, where it is currently widespread. Its ecological niche is similar to those of native rabbits and hares and increasing overlap in distribution brings these species into ever closer contact. Therefore, cottontails are at risk of infection with the two lagoviruses endemically present in Italy: Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease virus (RHDV) and European Brown Hare Syndrome Virus (EBHSV). To verify the susceptibility of Sylvilagus to these viruses, we analyzed 471 sera and 108 individuals from cottontail populations in 9 provinces of north-central Italy from 1999 to 2012. In total, 15–20% of the cottontails tested seropositive for EBHSV; most titres were low, but some were as high as 1/1280. All the cottontails virologically tested for RHDV and EBHSV were negative with the exception of one individual found dead with hares during a natural EBHS outbreak in December 2009. The cottontail and the hares showed typical EBHS lesions, and the EBHSV strain identified was the same in both species (99.9% identity). To experimentally confirm the diagnosis, we performed two trials in which we infected cottontails with both EBHSV and RHDV. One out of four cottontails infected with EBHSV died of an EBHS-like disease, and the three surviving animals developed high EBHSV antibody titres. In contrast, neither mortality nor seroconversion was detected after infection with RHDV. Taken together, these results suggest that Sylvilagus is susceptible to EBHSV infection, which occasionally evolves to EBHS-like disease; the eastern cottontail could therefore be considered a “spill over” or “dead end” host for EBHSV unless further evidence is found to confirm that it plays an active role in the epidemiology of EBHSV.