Government Contributes Half A Million Dollars For RCD Studies

  • Simon Upton

The Government is spending a total of nearly half a million dollars for research, surveillance and distribution of information related to rabbit
calicivirus disease (RCD), the Minister for Biosecurity, Hon Simon Upton announced today.

Mr Upton said the research covers the following areas:

Virus identification ($20,000)

Virus material derived from rabbits sampled early in the RCD outbreak is already at the World Reference Laboratory in Brescia, Italy, where it will be typed and sequenced (i.e. the strain will be identified and its genetic make-up determined).

It is important to identify the strain of virus that is in New Zealand so that its origins can be established. Sequencing will provide base-line information which will make it possible to monitor changes in the genetic makeup of the virus and any associated changes in virulence.

Preliminary results indicate similarities with the Australian virus.

Monitoring the effects of virus exposure to humans and other non-target species

Humans ($70-110,000)

The human serological (i.e. blood sample) study will be carried out by the MOH.

Non-target species other than humans ($77,000)

A short-term programme of low level monitoring of the blood of sheep, cattle deer, ferrets, dogs and cats will be carried out by MAF.

The chance of RCD virus directly affecting non-target species are considered to be low. However, it is believed to be important to check a sample of humans and animals naturally exposed to high levels of the virus for any reactions.

Mechanism of spread of the virus, and the epidemiology of the disease and the ecological impacts in different environments ($300,000)

The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, in association with MAF, advertised on 3 November for tenders from those with an interest in undertaking "Research into the Epidemiology of RCD in New Zealand". The successful tenderer will be selected tomorrow
(28 November).

This research will examine how the virus spreads and persists in the environment and the role that vectors, such as flies, play. It will build on the pilot study which has recently been completed by Landcare Research with MAF funding of $70,000.

Currently the virus is being used mainly as a biocide with limited reliance on natural spread although this has been reported to be occurring in some cases. If the virus is to be used as a cost-effective biocontrol in future it will be essential to identify the means by which it
spreads naturally and the factors which contribute.

Co-ordination of the release of information on best practice ($17,000)

MAF has contracted the Rural Futures Trust to act as the co-ordinator of the transfer of information to and from farms and farmers. This will include anecdotal information of the performance of the virus in the field. Information from MAF and from research as it becomes available will be channelled through the RFT.

In addition to the money spent on research, the Department of Conservation has devoted over half a million dollars to the surveillance of
predators. This brings to over $1 million the sum spent as a result of RCD's introduction.