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Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2

Earlier this year, Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 (RHDV2), a notifiable foreign animal disease, was detected for the first time in wild hares and rabbits in the United States. As of June 12, it has been detected in wild rabbit populations in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. RHDV2 poses a threat to the Commonwealth’s cottontail rabbit and snowshoe hare populations, and as such, the Pennsylvania Game Commission is taking the ongoing outbreak very seriously.

What is RHDV2?

RHDV2 is a foreign animal disease, meaning it is not typically found in the United States and is of high concern to domestic and wild animal health. It is a highly pathogenic and contagious calicivirus affecting hares, rabbits, and closely-related species; it is not known to infect other animals or people and is not related to the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. RHDV2 was first identified in domestic rabbits in France in 2010. Since then, the disease has been responsible for mass die-offs in wild hare and rabbit populations in several countries which now includes the United States.

How does RHDV2 spread?

The virus is extremely hardy and highly contagious. It can spread between hares and rabbits via many pathways that include: direct contact with an infected live or dead individual; ingestion of contaminated food or water; inhalation; contact with contaminated equipment, tools, and enclosures; viral movement by flies, birds, biting insects, predators, scavengers, and humans; and contact with urine, feces, and respiratory discharges from infected individuals. The virus can survive on clothing, plant material, or other items that may be accidentally moved from an infected area. People can also spread the virus indirectly by carrying it on their clothing and shoes.

How does RHDV2 affect hares and rabbits and what can we look for?

There is no specific treatment for the disease and it is often fatal (potentially 75 to 100 percent) with the potential to result in large, localized mortality events. Hares or rabbits that do not immediately die following infection may present with poor appetites, lethargy, and blood coming from their mouths or noses.

Is RHDV2 a public health concern?

RHDV2 is not infectious to people or domestic animals other than hares or rabbits. However, multiple dead or sick hares or rabbits can also be a sign of tularemia or plague, diseases that can cause serious illness in people. Therefore, it is important that the public does not handle or consume sick or dead wildlife, as well as prevent pets from contacting or consuming wildlife carcasses.

Where exactly has RHDV2 been detected in wild hares and rabbits?

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service maintains an up-to-date map.

 

Recommendations

  • We encourage members of the public to report any wild lagomorph mortality events (two or more dead hares or rabbits at the same location) to their local Game Commission office for further investigation. Do not touch or disturb any dead hares or rabbits that may be suspected of RHDV2 until after communicating with your regional Game Commission office.
    • If the mortality event is suggestive of RHDV2, a foreign animal disease investigation will need to be conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA). The Game Commission will contact the PDA’s Bureau of Animal Health & Diagnostic Services to initiate the investigation.
  • While RHDV2 is a threat to domestic rabbits, the Game Commission has no involvement with domestic animals. PDA is involved with domestic rabbits to the extent that they are raised and slaughtered for meat and such facilities are not voluntarily consenting to USDA and/or FDA oversight. In addition to PDA, USDA, and FDA, private veterinary practices would also provide some oversight of domestic/pet rabbits. Any questions regarding disease surveillance in domestic rabbits should be directed to those non-Game Commission entities. Veterinary diagnostic laboratories are aware of the issue and any detections of RHDV2 in domestic lagomorphs in PA will be reported to the Game Commission.
  • While spread through natural means in the environment is a concern, relocation and establishment of the virus by people transporting infected rabbits and contaminated materials is the main risk of RHDV2 being introduced and spreading throughout our native wild rabbit populations. Clean and disinfect (1:10 solution of household bleach water applied after cleaning) all surfaces and equipment that may have come into contact with a contaminated cottontail or hare.
    • If instructed by your region’s Game Commission office to dispose of carcasses, either incinerate or bury them deep enough to prevent scavenging (more than three feet). Carcasses can also be disposed of in the commercial trash.
    • The virus is resilient and may remain on the landscape for weeks or months. Everyone should be cautious not to spread the disease from a suspected infection site.

Additional Resources

 Home Rabbit Society