U.S. Rabbits are Facing A Deadly Virus Outbreak Of Their Own

The virus is deadly and highly contagious, but only affects rabbits as far as recorded.
Derya Ozdemir

It looks like rabbits in the United States are facing a new viral outbreak of their own, and the lethal rabbit hemorrhagic virus Type 2 (RHDV2) is dangerous, contagious, and relatively new.

Detected first in New Mexico in early March, RHDV2 is sweeping the Southwestern United States and killing domestic and wild rabbits as it spreads through Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and, most recently, California. If it continues to spread, the contagious disease could harm more than a dozen species of rabbits in the U.S.

It should be noted that the virus is not a coronavirus, and doesn't affect humans or other animals. Up until now, it has been seen to infect rabbit species such as quackgrass, hares, and pikas only, CNN reports.


First recorded in China, came from Europe

The disease, first recorded in China in 1984, is believed to have originated from rabbits imported from Europe.

Its first variant spread across several continents; but the Type 2 variant, which is what rabbits are facing right now, emerged in 2010, and only small outbreaks occurred in Australia and North America. 

RHDV2: Highly contagious 

RHDV2 poses a serious risk since the sickened rabbits aren't discovered until they've already died by internal bleeding and swelling, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

Infected rabbits might show symptoms such as fever, lack of appetite, swelling, and respiratory or nervous signs. A rabbit that has died of the virus might have blood on its nose or mouth due to internal bleeding.

The virus is extremely contagious. Infected rabbits or carcasses, their meat or fur, contaminated food and water, and clothing and shoes can transmit it.

The disease can harm ecosystems 

According to CDFW Senior Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Deana Clifford, if not checked, RHDV2 might significantly affect wild rabbit populations. Especially species that are already imperiled, such as the endangered riparian brush rabbit or the pygmy rabbit, are at risk most. 

“Unfortunately, we may also see impacts to species that depend on rabbits for food, as rabbits are a common prey species for many predators," Clifford said.

Rabbits are already up against habitat loss and this could affect whole ecosystems. 

There is a vaccine

While rabbits can be vaccinated against RHDV2, the vaccine is only approved in Europe. Thankfully, it can be approved for use in the U.S. if the virus circulates in feral and wild rabbits, according to USDA's emerging risk notice.

In such instance, New Mexico received 500 doses of the vaccine from France on Wednesday according to state veterinarian Ralph Zimmerman, The Washington Post reports.

Pet rabbits should stay at home

Since there is no exact cure, infected rabbits should be isolated. In under no circumstances, dead rabbits should be touched or moved.

If you see a sick or dead rabbit, you should report it to state wildlife officials, per asked by authorities. 

According to the CDFW, "... domestic rabbit owners should practice good biosecurity measures to protect their animals from this disease, such as washing hands before and after working with rabbits, not sharing equipment with other owners, and keeping their rabbits isolated from wild or feral rabbits."

So, much like their owners who are physical distancing due to COVID-19, pet rabbits should stay at home until further notice. 

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