Rabbit hemorrhagic disease is a fatal disease in rabbits and is considered a foreign animal disease in the United States. This disease is caused by several virus strains. RHDV2 is highly contagious strain and, unlike other rabbit hemorrhagic disease viruses, it affects both domestic and wild rabbits, including jackrabbits and cottontails. 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. As of July 28, 2020, Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 (RHDV2) has been confirmed in 10 US States since 2018 (Ohio, Washington, New York, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, California and Utah).
Rabbit hemorrhagic disease can be caused by two different, related viruses, RHDV1 and RHDV2. The current outbreak is due to the RHDV2 virus. It is highly contagious and affects rabbits, both domesticated and wild. Of rabbits that are exposed to the virus, almost all die. The pathogen that causes rabbit hemorrhagic disease belongs to the calicivirus family. Caliciviruses infect a wide variety of animals, including cats, pigs, cattle, and humans. Norovirus which causes gastrointestinal disease, is a common calicivirus that afflicts people. There are many strains of RHDV and three major viral subtypes: RHDV (sometimes RHDV1 or “classical RHDV”), RHDVa and RHDV2. The clinical signs of the disease don’t vary between subtypes but RHDV and RHDVa, which are closely related, have shorter incubation periods and higher mortality rates than RHDV2, as detailed in a 2016 report from Iowa State University.
Rabbits can contract the virus through contact with infected rabbits or with other animals or materials — such as food, water, bedding and vehicles — that have been in contact with infected animals. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a very low dose, possibly as little as a few viral particles, is enough to cause infection. The virus is highly stable, especially in organic materials, and can remain viable for months in varied temperatures and over distances, enabling it to be spread by biting insects.
Features of Rhd2 Vaccine
Rabbits can catch the virus by inhalation, ingestion, or by absorption through scrapes and wounds. It can be transmitted by direct contact with an infected rabbit or by contact with an object, person, clothing, or equipment that has encountered an affected rabbit. Rabbits are also able to catch the virus through consumption of contaminated water or food. Insects can spread the virus over long distances. Many times rabbits do not show signs before suddenly dying. If they do show signs, they may show fever, inappetance, lethargy, muscle spasms, breathing difficulties, blue colored lips, or bleeding from the mouth and nose. It can take between 1-5 days from the time a rabbit is exposed to the virus before it develops symptoms.
The most important way to prevent the disease is to take precautions to prevent exposing your rabbits to the virus.
- If rabbits are housed outside, house them off the ground when possible. Do not use material from outside for food or bedding.
- Wild rabbits. Do not allow wild rabbits to come into your yard and try to prevent dogs, cats, birds, and other animals from bringing rabbit carcasses onto your property. If you do find deceased rabbits, contact the health department.
- Do not spread on your hands or clothing. After handling a rabbit, wash your hands. Avoid handling rabbits that are not yours. Before handling rabbits in different locations, change clothes and shoes as well as wash your hands. Ensure that everyone who visits your rabbits washes their hands thoroughly before touching your rabbits and wears protective clothing such as coveralls, shoes covers, hair covers and gloves.
- Avoid borrowing equipment. If you need to borrow equipment or if you buy used equipment, thoroughly scrub with a 10% bleach and water solution (1 part bleach, 9 parts water), leaving it to soak for at least 10 minutes before rinsing and letting dry.
- Do not add new rabbits. If you must, make sure they are kept in a separate housing area. Do not use the same equipment for the new and old rabbits.
- If you find a deceased rabbit, report it to Veterinary Public Health at 213-288-7060 or email this reporting form to firstname.lastname@example.org. Double-bag the body, spray the outside of each bag with diluted bleach (1 part bleach, 9 parts water), and then dispose of the bag into an outdoor garbage receptacle. Wash your hands thoroughly and change clothes or disinfect all clothing/footwear/equipment used before handling other rabbits.
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