An internally controlled multiplex real-time RT-PCR using TaqMan probes and external standards for absolute RNA quantification was developed as a new diagnostic tool for the detection of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV). The test revealed a specificity of 100%, an analytical sensitivity of 10 copies/well and a linearity over a range from 10(1) to 10(10) copies. The viral loads in organs, leukocytes, sera and excretions of seropositive, convalescent rabbits which were overcoming an experimental infection with RHDV were determined using the validated assay. As a result, viral RNA was demonstrated and quantified for at least 15 weeks. Thus, a persistence of viral RNA after experimental infection of rabbits could be shown for the first time. In contrast, neither antigen nor infectious virus could be detected by antigen-ELISA, immunohistochemistry or experimental transmission. Therefore, further experiments are necessary to prove that the persistence of RNA is linked with the persistence of infectious virus particles.