A new strain of the rabbit calicivirus has been confirmed in a single wild rabbit found on a Marlborough farm.
The strain – called RHDV2 – is widespread in Europe and Australia, but this is the first time it has been found in New Zealand, said MPI response manager John Brightwell.
"The virus affects rabbits and the European hare. It has no impact on human health or other animals, but we can't rule out a potential risk to pet rabbits.
"We understand this will be worrying news for many rabbit owners, and we want to give people as many tools as possible to minimise the risk to their animals.
"As a precaution, we began work at the end of last month to import the latest vaccine for the strain from France. We expect the first 1,000 doses to be in the country next week and are working with importers to secure a long-term supply.
"There are also a number of practical steps people can take to minimise the risk to their pets. If you own rabbits, you should:
•keep them separate from wild rabbits
•wash hands between handling rabbits
•control insects around pet rabbits as they can spread the virus between rabbits.
"For any specific advice about your rabbit, talk to your vet.
"So far our testing programme has only identified a single wild rabbit but we know the virus spreads quickly. At this stage, we don't yet know how widespread it is, or how long it has been in the country.
"We are working to answer both those questions but our key focus right now is to minimise the risk in front of us and support rabbit owners to take the right precautions, including making a vaccine available.
"Because of the difficulties involved in pinning down a virus, we may never know exactly how it came into New Zealand and where it came from. However, we know that the strain was not brought in from Australia because it is sufficiently different from the RHDV2 strain prevalent there.
"We can also rule out that the new strain came in with the RHDV1-K5 strain which was released nationwide in a planned rollout through March and April because of extensive testing at the time."