Lapis ISSN 2398-2969

Herpes virus

Contributor(s): Vetstream Ltd, Livia Benato, Susan Dawson




  • Family: Herpesviridae.
  • Subfamily: Alphaherpesvirinae.
    • Genus:Simplexvirus.
    • Species:Leporid herpesvirus4 (LHV-4) andHuman herpesvirus1 and 2  (HHV-1 and HHV-2).
  • Subfamily: Gammaherpesvirinae.
    • Genus:Rhadinovirus.
    • Species:Leporid herpesvirus1, 2 and 3 (LHV-1, LHV-2 and LHV-3).

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Clinical Effects



  • Route of infection: intranasal, oral or conjunctival.
  • Transmission via lacrimal excretions. 
  • Virus is shed in oronasal secretions from 24 h post-infection and persists 1-3 weeks.
  • Transmitted by direct contact and by short-distance aerosolization through sneezing.
  • Indirect via contaminated food bowls, hands, etc (less important than direct transmission due to virus susceptibility to desiccation, disinfectants, etc).
  • Transmission between humans infected with HHV-1 and rabbits.

Pathological effects

  • Neutralizing antibody recognizes gp60, the viral hemagglutinin, which is essential for attachment to cells.
  • Neutralizing titers are low: 1:16-1:64.
  • Neutralizing antibodies appear 20-30 days post-infection.
  • Infection is life-long and latently infected animals may still have neutralizing antibodies.
  • Virus growth occurs in the epithelium of the nasal mucosa, conjunctiva, tonsil and nasal turbinates: tissue damage is due to viral cytolysis. Clinical signs of upper respiratory tract disease due to this damage.
  • Encephalitis: presence of intranuclear inclusion bodies in neurons and glial cells.


Control via chemotherapies

  • For ulcerative keratitis: 0.1% ophthalmic solution of 5-iododeoxyuridine 4-6 times daily for 3-5 days (Acyclovir, used for herpes simplex in man, less active against FHV).
  • Broad spectrum antibiotic cover useful against secondary bacterial infection.
  • Good nursing, especially to encourage feeding and supportive treatment.
  • Euthanasia if severe clinical presentation and rapid deterioration.

Control via environment

  • Disinfectant: bleach diluted 1:32 in water with washing-up liquid.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references fromPubMed.
  • Muller K, Fuchs Wet al(2009)Encephalitis in a rabbit caused by human herpesvirus-1. JAVMA235(1), 66-69PubMed
  • Jin L, Lohr C Vet al(2008)Characterization of a novel alphaherpesvirus associated with fatal infections of domestic rabbits. Virology378(1), 13-20PubMed
  • Grest P, Albicker P et al(2002)Herpes simplexencephalitis in a domestic rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). J Comp Pathol126(4), 308-311PubMed.
  • Weissenbock H, Hainfellneret al(1997)Naturally occurringherpes simplexencephalitis in a domestic rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Vet Pathol34(1), 44-47PubMed.
  • Onderka D K, Papp-Vid G & Perry A W (1992)Fatal herpesvirus infection in commercial rabbits.Can Vet J33(8), 539-543PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Roizman B & Pellett P E (2001)The Family Herpesviridae: a Brief Introduction.In:Fields Virology. Eds: Knipe D M & Howley P M. 5th edn. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. pp 2381-2397.