Rabbits in the United States are facing a lethal rabbit hemorrhagic virus, and the disease is spreading across the Southwestern United States known as Type 2 (RHDV2)
The virus was detected in early March and is killing both domestic and wild rabbits as it spreads through Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and now California. It is not a coronavirus and is not known to affect humans or any other animals. Scientists state it has only infected rabbits including jackrabbits, hares and pikas.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, many times, the only signs of the disease are sudden death and blood stained noses caused by internal bleeding. Infected rabbits may also develop a fever, be hesitant to eat, or show respiratory or nervous signs. A rabbit that may have died from the virus might have blood on its nows or mouth because of internal bleeding. The disease is highly contagious.
The virus could affect the dwindling population of the endangered riparian brush rabbit or the pygmy rabbit. It may also have a serious impact of wild animals that hunt for rabbit as the mainstays of their diets.
Rabbits can be vaccinated against the virus, but the vaccine has only been approved in Europe, however in areas affecting feral rabbits the USDA, the vaccine can be used.
The disease was believed to have come from rabbits imported from Europe and spread across several continents. Rabbit hemorrhagic disease was first recorded in China.
There is no known cure – isolating rabbits is necessary whenever new rabbit is brought in. Again practicing good hygiene can make a big difference. The RHDV2 virus is very resistant to extreme temperatures. It can be spread through direct contact or exposure to an infected rabbit’s excretions or blood. The virus can also survive and
spread from carcasses, food, water, and any contaminated materials. People can spread the
virus indirectly by carrying it on their clothing and shoes.
Rabbit owners who have questions about this disease should contact their veterinarians. Rabbit hemorrhagic disease is a reportable disease. When detected this disease should be immediately reported to USDA local office as the USA has an obligation to report all detections to the World Organization for Animal Health. Veterinarians should immediately contact the USDA APHIS Area Veterinarian in Charge of your state and/or the state veterinarian if a case is suspected.
For more information, contact the emerging issues team at:
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
2150 Centre Avenue, Building B Fort Collins, CO 80526-8117
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