The Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory has confirmed more detections of rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2) in a wild rabbit.

At Risk

A black-tailed jackrabbit. Both wild and domestic rabbits are at risk from RHDV2.

The latest confirmation is in a black-tailed jackrabbit recovered from Powell Butte in Crook County Dec. 13.

RHDV2 is a virus that causes sudden death in rabbits. The virus only infects rabbits and poses no human health risk. But it poses a high risk for domestic, feral and wild rabbits.

Oregon Department of Agriculture and ODFW officials said they are working together to monitor the disease and to try and limit its spread since it was first detected in Oregon in feral domestic rabbits near Portland in mid-March 2021.

The first known mortality from RHDV2 in a wild rabbit occurred in a black-tailed jackrabbit found dead near Rome, in Malheur County in April 2021. This case was only confirmed in December 2021. The second was confirmed in a wild black-tailed jack rabbit collected in May 2021 near Christmas Valley, in Lake County.

This latest detection in Crook County is about 70 miles from the Christmas Valley case and less than 50 miles from a detection by ODA in feral domestic and domestic rabbits in La Pine.

The virus can withstand high and low temperatures and persists for long periods in decaying carcasses on the landscape. Transmission is often through direct contact but can also be spread through excretions, via contaminated water or food, and through contaminated objects or clothing.

Signs of the disease in rabbits may include respiratory or neurologic symptoms as well as bloody nasal discharge and sudden death. Often, a deceased animal with a bloody nose is seen without other obvious external signs of injury. (Rabbits that have clear evidence of trauma, such as being caught by cat or hit by car, are not usually tested for the virus.)

While this virus can be deadly and contagious to rabbits and hares, in two of the three wild rabbit cases in Oregon, just a single dead rabbit was identified instead of multiple dead rabbits.

Dead rabbits may be rapidly scavenged by other animals and the camouflaged coloration of wild rabbit fur makes them difficult to see in the field, so it’s very possible more wild rabbits have died from the virus.

Resources

To report suspicious wild rabbit mortalities, call the Wildlife Health reporting hotline at 1-866-968-2600 or e-mail at wildlife.health@odfw.oregon.gov.

For sick or dead domestic or feral rabbit reports please contact ODA at call 1-800-347-7028 or visit https://oda.direct/RHD.

Winter is the most popular time of the year to hunt rabbits and hunters are asked to keep an eye out for the disease and take steps to avoid spreading it. Domestic rabbit owners should also take precautions.

Tips for hunters 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.)

If you find a dead rabbit:

  • Wear disposable gloves when handling rabbit carcasses.
  • Double bag carcasses and spray outside of bag with disinfectant.
  • Wash hands with soap and warm water after handling carcasses and removing gloves. Dispose of gloves in trash headed to landfill.
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