By Katrina D. Ramsell, Ph.D., DVM
Myxomatosis is a deadly but rare viral disease of rabbits in most parts of the world, except in the Californias (United States and Mexico), Oregon, Australia, and parts of Europe and South America, where it has become more persistent and less serious in certain wild rabbit species. It is caused by the myxoma virus, which is a member of the poxvirus family. Wild rabbits serve as a natural host for the myxoma virus in North and South America and are of the genus Sylvilagus. S. brasiliensis (forest rabbit) is found in Central and South America and S. bachmani (brush rabbit) is native to California and Oregon. In these rabbits, myxomatosis occurs naturally as a mild infection, with the virus causing benign skin tumors at sites where a rabbit is bitten by a mosquito or other blood-sucking insect. Myxomatosis is a much more serious disease in the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) or rabbits domesticated from the European rabbit, where the myxoma virus often causes life-threatening disease with mortality rates of up to 100 percent.
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