Absence of Hepatitis E virus circulation in wild rabbits ( Oryctolagus cuniculus ) and Iberian hares ( Lepus granatensis ) in Mediterranean ecosystems in Spain

Transboundary and Emerging Diseases


In recent decades, cases of autochthonous hepatitis E (HE) have sharply increased in European countries where foodborne transmission is considered the main route of HE virus (HEV) transmission. Although rabbits are considered the main reservoir of the zoonotic HEV‐3ra subtype, information on the role of wild lagomorphs in the epidemiology of HEV remains scarce. The aim of this study therefore was to assess the circulation of HEV in European wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and Iberian hares (Lepus granatensis), the most important lagomorph species in Spanish Mediterranean ecosystems. Liver samples from 372 wild rabbits and 78 Iberian hares were analysed using a broad‐spectrum RT‐PCR that detects HEV genotypes 1–8. None of the 450 lagomorphs tested were positive for HEV infection. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to assess HEV circulation in wild rabbits in Spain and the first to evaluate HEV infection in Iberian hares. Our results indicate absence of HEV circulation in wild rabbits and Iberian hares in southern Spain during the study period, which suggests that the risk of transmission of HEV from wild lagomorphs to other species, including humans, is low.

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