During the first 20 years after its establishment in Australia, myxoma virus was spread primarily by mosquitoes. Then, in
1969-71 Australian authorities introduced a new vector, the European rabbit flea, which further enhanced the effect of the
disease. But myxomatosis proved far less effective in the semi-arid and arid zones, where lack of permanent water prevents
mosquitoes breeding, and where the European rabbit flea cannot persist.
SPANISH RABBIT FLEAS were deliberately imported into Australia in 1993 by South Australian scientists to
spread disease among wild European rabbits. These fleas were deliberately bred in different areas of Australia and released to transmit myxomatosis (and RCD/RHD?) between rabbits in drier areas.
What other animals might the imported Spanish fleas decide to bite and inoculate if a rabbit is not around
to provide a blood meal? What disease might the Spanish rabbit flea spread between native animals in Australia?
It took Dr Brian Cooke, CSIRO, several attempts to convince Australian authorities that Spanish fleas would
only bite rabbits and not other animals. Many people disagree that this is so and it is hard to believe a hungry
flea would care what it bit if it was in search of a blood meal and rabbits were not available.
Fleas are carriers of disease. Fleas transmit the plague. It is most unwise to deliberately import, breed and release
exotic parasites from one country to another. Parasites such as the European and Spanish rabbit fleas may inoculate
non-target Australian native species with disease.
ABC TV has shown that after spending much productive time catching and studying flies to see if they are important in spreading RCD/RHD, Dr Brian Cooke now busies himself travelling around with a rabbit shooter and cutting the eyes and livers out of poor freshly shot wild bunnies to see if they have RCD/RHD antibodies. Apparently, on ABC TV Landline Dr Cooke was heard to say "Good shot" as the shooter killed another rabbit.
If the shot rabbits were does with kits, the dead does' kits would be left to starve to death in their burrows.
ABC TV showed that apparently all Dr Brian Cooke was concerned with was in cutting out the rabbit's eyes (to tell how old the rabbits are)and their livers.
Who Weekly magazine (16/12/96) wrote "history seems set to condemn Cooke as the man who killed off tens of millions of Australia's rabbits
with the lethal rabbit calicivirus disease (RCD/RHD)." Who also wrote of Dr Cooke's life work as being "devising new ways to kill rabbits."
According to Who Weekly, it was while Cooke was in Spain in 1988 studying the European rabbit flea that he first saw how lethal RHD/RCD was to European rabbits."
"It had such a dramatic effect" said Cooke "I felt that this was something we had to look at more closely". Cooke got his wish.
Many fleas spread disease such as plague.
Plague is caused by an infection with Yersian pestis, which is a bacterium carried by rodents and transmitted by fleas found in
parts of Asia, Africa, and North and South America. The Oriental Rat flea (Xenopsylla cheopis) is the most efficient carrier of
plague, but other species of fleas (ex. Nosopsyllus fasciatus, Xenopsylla brasiliensis, Pulex irritaus) can also pass the disease
on to humans. Overall, 100 species of fleas are known to be infected by the plague bacillus. Plague is transmitted to humans in
-Mostly by being bitten by an infected flea
-Sometimes from exposure to plague infected tissue
Plague is normally enzootic, (present in an animal community but occurring in only a small number of cases), among rodents.
However, with certain environmental conditions plague reaches an epizootic scale (affecting many animals in any region at the
same time). It is after a significant amount of the rodent (usually rats) population dies out, that hungry, infected fleas seek other
sources of blood, increasing the risk to humans and other animals. the incubation period of bubonic plague is 2 to 6 days after
exposure. Between disease outbreaks, the plague bacterium exists among certain burrowing rodent populations without
causing much illness. These animals act as long-term reservoirs of infection.
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