European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) are affected by rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD), which is caused by a lagovirus responsible for significant mortality in European wild rabbit populations. Our study aimed to evaluate the potential for detecting viral RNA by duplex real-time PCR in rabbit fecal pellets collected in the field, as a noninvasive method to monitor RHD virus circulation in wild populations. To do this, monthly discoveries of rabbits that died from RHD and detection of viral RNA in fecal pellets were recorded in two enclosed populations of wild rabbits throughout a year. The results suggested a low performance of this procedure to monitor viral infection incidence and a weak concordance with monthly discoveries of rabbits that died from RHD. This poor association was probably due to the low amount of viral RNA in feces, the prolonged time of excretion after infection, and that the number of rabbits found dead from RHD does not necessarily correlate with RHD incidence. Nevertheless, this procedure may be a complementary noninvasive method to assist in determining the presence of RHD viruses in populations. Additional research is needed to determine the suitability of this methodology to perform epidemiologic surveys on wild populations of European rabbits and, especially, other European or North American lagomorph species affected by lagoviruses.
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Vol. 58 • No. 2