The overall pattern and consequences of myxomatosis in wild rabbit populations were studied at three farmland sites in lowland southern England and upland central Wales between 1971 and 1978. When results from all years were combined, the disease showed a clear two-peaked annual cycle, with a main autumn peak between August and January, and a subsidiary spring peak during February to April.
Rabbit fleas, the main vectors of myxomatosis in Britain, were present on full-grown rabbits in sufficient numbers for transmission to occur throughout the year, but the observed seasonal pattern of the disease appeared to be influenced by seasonal mass movements of these fleas. However other factors were also important including the timing and success of the main rabbit breeding season, the proportion of rabbits which had recovered from the disease and the timing and extent of autumn rabbit mortality from other causes.
Significantly more males than females, and more adults and immatures than juveniles, were observed to be infected by myxomatosis. Only 25–27% of the total populations were seen to be infected during outbreaks. Using two independent methods of calculation, it was estimated that between 47 and 69% of infected rabbits died from the disease (much lower than the expected 90–95% for fully susceptible rabbits with the partly attenuated virus strains that predominated). Thus it was estimated that 12–19% of the total rabbit populations were known to have died directly or indirectly from myxomatosis.
Although the effects of myxomatosis were much less than during the 1950s and 1960s, it continued to be an important mortality factor. It may still have a regulatory effect on rabbit numbers, with autumn/winter peaks of disease reducing the numbers of rabbits present at the start of the breeding season.