The USDA Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory last week confirmed rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2) in a wild black-tailed jackrabbit collected in Lake County near Christmas Valley, Ore. on May 20, 2021.
The confirmation marks the first time the deadly disease has been confirmed in a wild rabbit in Oregon; it was first detected in domestic rabbits in Milwaukie, Ore. on March 14, 2021.
The jackrabbit was one of several observed dead in the area with signs of the disease; only recently deceased rabbits and hares are sampled for presence of the virus.
RHDV2 is a viral disease that causes high mortality in populations and rapidly leads to death in rabbits. The virus can survive outside of the live animal under a range of temperatures and can survive in the environment in rabbit feces and on surfaces for weeks to months under favorable conditions. The virus spreads through direct contact between infected and susceptible live rabbits or exposure to contaminated materials (carcasses, pelts, food, water, forage, feces etc.). Birds, rodents, flies, predators, and scavengers can spread this virus via their feet, fur/feathers, or feces without becoming infected themselves. People can spread the virus indirectly by carrying it on their clothing, hands, and shoes.
RHDV2 poses no human health risk; the disease specifically infects rabbits and hares.
ODFW will continue to collect and test recently deceased and sick wild rabbits throughout Oregon to document the current distribution of the disease in rabbit populations and attempt to stop it from spreading to other wild rabbits. RHDV2 infections in other states have caused high mortality in wild rabbits and hares, which play an important role in the ecosystem that many other species depend on.
ODFW is asking the public to report rabbit mortalities to track the virus’s presence and movement. Please call 1-800-347-7028 or visit https://oda.direct/RHD to report domestic or wild rabbits which are suspected to have died from RHDV2.
ODFW and ODA also want to remind the public that releasing pet or domestically raised rabbits into the wild is unlawful and could further spread disease to wild rabbits. The transport and import of live rabbits should also be avoided.
Guidance for hunters—Don’t bring the disease home to your rabbits. Rabbit hunters should take extra precautions when hunting—especially if they have pet or domestically raised rabbits.
“If you have pet rabbits, do not handle dead wild rabbits in the field and then go home and handle your own pet or domestic rabbits as you may spread the disease,” says Colin Gillin, ODFW state wildlife veterinarian. “Wear nitrile gloves when handling and then shower and wash clothes before getting near any other rabbits.
It’s important to take every precaution not to transfer the disease to domestic rabbits,” he continued. “And rabbits can also carry diseases that can infect people including tularemia, so it’s always a good practice to protect yourself.”
ODFW has also provided guidance to falconers and wildlife rehabilitators to refrain from handling rabbits and inadvertently moving the virus.
Following are some tips to avoid spreading the RHDV2 virus:
If sick or dead rabbits are observed in an area, do not hunt, run dogs, or fly falconry birds in that area. Contact ODFW immediately at 866-968-2600.
Avoid rabbit hunting in areas in states where RHDV2 outbreaks have been recently documented. Contact the state wildlife agency where you will be hunting for information on where RHDV2 has been identified.
After handling wild rabbits, wash hands and change clothing and footwear before handling or caring for domestic rabbits.
Do not eat, drink, or smoke while handling animals.
Take precautions when handling harvested rabbits, which can carry other diseases including tularemia that can be fatal to people. Wear rubber, nitrile, or disposable latex gloves while handling and cleaning rabbits and other game. Wash hands thoroughly with warm water and soap or sanitizer after handling game. Disinfect all knives, equipment, and surfaces that were in contact with game.
Thoroughly cook all game to an internal temperature of 165°F.
Do not feed game meat from wildlife that appear sick, are found dead, or test positive for a contagious disease to people or pets, including falconry birds.
For those raising domestic rabbits (also talk to your veterinarian for advice):
Minimize exposure to wild rabbits and hares by keeping your rabbits in hutches or cages that are elevated off the ground.
Keep pet rabbits inside to avoid exposure to environments potentially contaminated by wild/feral rabbits or by people, vehicles or implements that can spread the disease.
Do not allow your rabbits to graze or roam in a yard if wild rabbits are present in your area.
Restrict visitors to your rabbitry and limit the handling of the animals by visitors.
Avoid transporting or importing domestic rabbits.
After visiting a show, fair, or meeting where rabbits were comingled, shower and change clothes before handing your rabbits.
Quarantine new rabbits away from existing ones for 30 days.
Know the health status of the rabbitry from which you purchase rabbits.
Be aware of the rabbit disease status of the state or country of origin of any equipment or supplies that you are purchasing.
Wash and disinfect hands, clothing, gloves, footwear, cages, and equipment between rabbits from different sources. (RHDV is inactivated by 10% bleach to water solution.)
Immediately contact ODA (800-347-7028) if you suspect RHDV or have sick or freshly dead rabbits.
If you find a dead rabbit:
Wear disposable gloves when handling rabbit carcasses.
Double bag carcasses and spray outside of bag with disinfectant (see below).
Wash hands with soap and warm water after handling carcasses and removing gloves. Dispose of gloves in trash headed to landfill.