Wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) from one study area in England have been used over a period of 11 years to investigate the possible appearance of innate resistance to myxomatosis. Rabbits of 4–6 weeks old were captured alive, retained in the laboratory until at least 4 months old, and then infected with a type of myxoma virus which kills 90–95% of laboratory rabbits. Observations were made of symptoms, mortality rate and survival times.
In the first 4 years of the study (1966–9), mortality rates were not significantly different from those of laboratory rabbits, although survival times of wild rabbits were appreciably longer. In 1970, the mortality rate amongst wild rabbits was 59%, in 1974 it was 17%, and in 1976 it was 20%, thus showing that a considerable degree of inherited resistance to myxomatosis has developed.
The types of myxoma virus most commonly isolated from wild rabbits in Great Britain in recent years have been those which cause 70–95% mortality in laboratory rabbits. Therefore, if the degree of innate resistance demonstrated is widespread in Great Britain, there are serious implications regarding the size of the rabbit population, because myxomatosis has been an important factor in holding rabbit numbers at a relatively low level.
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