Latin name: Oryctolagus cuniculus
Common names: Rabbit, European Rabbit, Common European Rabbit, Domestic Rabbit
The New World genus Sylvilagus includes the many species of Cottontail Rabbit, which resemble the European Rabbit in appearance. The North American species called Jackrabbit are actually Hares (having longer ears and legs, and giving birth to already furred and open-eyed young), as is the Snowshoe Rabbit. The domesticated so-called Belgian Hare, on the other hand, is a Rabbit.
Direct or indirect contact with animal allergens frequently causes sensitisation.
Animal allergens may be major components of house dust or laboratory dust.
The Common European Rabbit is native to Southern Europe and Africa, but is now found, in its domestic varieties, throughout the world; wild varieties have also been introduced in some places, such as England. All Domestic Rabbits belong to this species. They may be various colours but are commonly white, and are bred for food and for their fur, which is often used in making fur trim and felt. They are also frequently used as laboratory animals and are kept as pets. Wild Rabbits feed on a wide variety of vegetation and are responsible in many areas for the stunted nature of the ground cover.
See under Geographical distribution.
Several allergens have been identified in Rabbit saliva, fur, urine, dander and dust. Allergenic proteins of 18-38 kDa have been detected (1).
To date, two have been characterised:
- Ory c 1, a 18 kDa protein, found in hair, dander and saliva (2- 3).
- Ory c 2, found in hair, dander and urine (2-3).
Serum albumin may be of minor allergenic importance (4-6).
Serum-specific IgE suggests that epithelium has different allergens from those in saliva, urine and fur. Saliva is the most potent extract. Overall, 26 protein bands are recognised as allergens. Saliva has 12, urine 7 and fur 7. Molecular weights varied from 8 kDa in saliva to 80 kDa in urine. An 18 kDa and 21 kDa protein were shown to belong to the lipocalin family. Saliva appears to contain the most potent allergen, which probably has a high homology with a 21 kDa lipocalin-odorant binding protein from Rabbit nasal mucosa (2-3, 7).
A 15 kDa allergen separated from a mixed Rabbit fur and dander extract was shown to cross-react with IgE antibodies in Deer-allergic individuals (7). (This is possibly not a dominant cross-reactivity. -Editor)
IgE mediated reactions
Of the 90,000 laboratory animal workers in the United States, between 21% and 46% develop allergy to laboratory animals. Of those who develop symptoms, more than 10% eventually develop occupation-related asthma with symptoms that persist even after exposure ceases (3, 8-9). These individuals are susceptible to life-threatening (but rare) anaphylactic reactions following animal bites and scratches and pricking with needles contaminated with the animal proteins (8).
Many animals associated with laboratories may actually be adopted as pets, resulting in allergies in their owners and owners' family members.
Allergy to animals may range from allergic rhinitis to allergic conjunctivitis to dermatitis to severe asthma. These may result from inhalation of or contact with the animal's dander, epithelium cells, urine, saliva, serum or hair. Most animals shed allergens through these substances, but not all species or strains do so equally. Different routes of exposure, e.g., respiratory, oral, mucosal and transdermal, elicit different symptoms.
A large study of laboratory animal workers in Japan recorded that symptoms were reported in 26% of workers exposed to Mice, 25% for Rats, 31% for Guinea Pigs, 30% for Rabbits, 26% for Hamsters, 30% for Cats, 25% for Dogs and 24% for Monkeys. About 70% of laboratory animal allergy (LAA) subjects developed symptoms during their first three years of exposure. A close relation between nasal symptoms and exposure to Rabbits and between skin symptoms and exposure to Rats was found. LAA subjects developed symptoms most quickly to Rabbits (10). The commonest symptom is allergic rhinoconjunctivitis with nasal congestion, rhinorrhoea, sneezing and itchy, watery eyes, which can occur in up to 80% of symptomatic workers (2).
While Rabbits are common as pets, severe allergic reactions to Domestic Rabbits in homes are unusual. Typically, allergic manifestations are mild to moderate allergic rhinitis, conjunctivitis, pruritus and/or asthma, contact urticaria and contact dermatitis in laboratory animal caretakers with frequent exposure (1, 11-12).
In a study of atopic children with contact with pets, 18% were sensitised to Rabbit and 12.3% showed clinical signs in the animal's presence (13). Cumulative duration of exposure to domestic animals is a significant determinant for immediate sensitisation to animal-derived antigens in subjects with asthma (12).
An atopic child developed anaphylaxis following inhalant exposure to a Rabbit. The patient had elevated serum-specific IgE to Rabbit epithelium and fur but not to Rabbit serum (14).
A 32-year-old male research physician accidentally received a minor wound from a needle which had been previously used on Rabbit tissue. Within 15 minutes serious anaphylactic reactions started and he was taken to hospital, where his condition stabilised within five hours. Serum immunoglobulin E antibodies to Rabbit epithelium were high (16.2 U/ml) (15).
Papular urticaria may result from contact with the Rabbit Fur Mite or Cat Flea that may be found on Rabbits (16).
Wild Rabbits are frequently infected with tularemia, which may be transmitted to humans.
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- Wood RA. Laboratory animal allergens. ILAR J 2001;42(1):12-6
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- Price JA, Longbottom JL. Allergy to rabbits. II. Identification and characterization of a major rabbit allergen. Allergy 1988;43:39-48
- Baker J, Berry A, Boscato LM, Gordon S, Walsh BJ, Stuart MC. Identification of some rabbit allergens as lipocalins. Clin Exp Allergy 2001;31(2):303-12
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- Desjardins A, Benoit C, Ghezzo H, L'Archeveque J, Leblanc C, Paquette L, Cartier A, Malo JL. Exposure to domestic animals and risk of immunologic sensitization in subjects with asthma. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1993;91(5):979-86
- Lelong M, Bras C, Thelliez P, Drain JP. Does the allergic child become sensitized to small domestic mammals (guinea pig, hamster, rabbit?). [French] Allerg Immunol (Paris) 1990;22(1):23-5
- Prince E, Zacharisen MC, Kurup VP. Anaphylaxis to rabbit: a case report. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 1998;81(3):272-3
- Watt AD, McSharry CP. Laboratory animal allergy: anaphylaxis from a needle injury. Occup Environ Med 1996;53(8):573-4
- Burns DA. Papular urticaria produced by the mite Listrophorus gibbus. Clin Exp Dermatol 1987;12(3):200-1