A colony of domestic rabbits in Tennessee, USA, experienced a high-mortality (~90%) outbreak of enterocolitis. The clinical characteristics were one to six days of lethargy, bloating, and diarrhea, followed by death. Heavy intestinal coccidial load was a consistent finding as was mucoid enteropathy with cecal impaction. Preliminary analysis by electron microscopy revealed the presence of virus-like particles in the stool of one of the affected rabbits. Analysis using the Virochip, a viral detection microarray, suggested the presence of an astrovirus, and follow-up PCR and sequence determination revealed a previously uncharacterized member of that family. Metagenomic sequencing enabled the recovery of the complete viral genome, which contains the characteristic attributes of astrovirus genomes. Attempts to propagate the virus in tissue culture have yet to succeed. Although astroviruses cause gastroenteric disease in other mammals, the pathogenicity of this virus and the relationship to this outbreak remains to be determined. This study therefore defines a viral species and a potential rabbit pathogen.
Virology Journal 2012, 9:216 doi:10.1186/1743-422X-9-216