Transbound Emerg Dis. 2022 Sep 23. doi: 10.1111/tbed.14709. Online ahead of print.
A long-term active epidemiological surveillance programme was conducted to determine seroprevalence to myxoma virus (MYXV), infection prevalence and spatiotemporal patterns and factors associated with MYXV circulation in wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in Spanish Mediterranean ecosystems. A total of 2,376 animals were sampled over four study periods: 2009-2012 (P1), 2012-2015 (P2), 2015-2018 (P3) and 2018-2021 (P4). Antibodies against MYXV were detected by a commercial indirect ELISA in 59.9% (1,424/2,376; 95%CI: 58.0-61.9) of wild rabbits. At least one seropositive animal was detected on 131 (96.3%) of 136 game estates sampled. MYXV infection was confirmed by PCR in 94 of 1,063 (8.8%; 95%CI: 7.3-10.7) wild rabbits. Circulation of the novel recombinant MYXV (ha-MYXV) was not found in wild rabbits analysed during P4. Five statistically significant spatiotemporal clusters of high MYXV seroprevalence were identified using a Bernoulli model: one in P2 and four in P3. A generalized linear mixed model (GLMM) analysis identified sampling season (autumn), age (adult and juvenile), outbreaks of myxomatosis in the month prior to sampling, mean annual temperature, humidity and seropositivity to rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus as factors potentially linked with MYXV seropositivity. GLMM analysis identified outbreaks of myxomatosis in the month prior to sampling, MYXV seropositivity and presence of lesions compatible with myxomatosis as factors associated with MYXV infection. The results indicate high exposure, widespread but non-homogeneous distribution, and endemic circulation of MYXV in wild rabbit populations in southern Spain during the last decade. Prevalence of antibodies against MYXV showed fluctuations both within the year and over the study periods, revealing variations in the immunity of wild rabbit populations in Mediterranean ecosystems that could increase the risk of MYXV re-emergence in immunologically naïve populations. The present study highlights the importance of long-term surveillance to better understand the epidemiology of MYXV in wild lagomorphs. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.