Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD)

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease is a highly infectious viral disease of domesticated and wild rabbits in Europe. Morbidity and mortality rates are high in unvaccinated animals. Since this is a foreign animal disease, it is of high concern at the state and federal levels. Until recently, rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus-2 was not considered a virus that would infect North American cottontails or hares; however, cases have been reported in New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas earlier this year. As of April 17, 2020, Colorado now has three confirmed cases of RHDV-2. All cases have been fatal.

Transmission
Transmissionto a rabbit occurs by direct contact with infected animals, carcasses, bodily fluids (urine, feces, respiratory secretions), and hair. Contaminated surfaces such as clothing, food, cages, bedding, and water also spread the virus. Scavengers and birds may play an important role in indirect transmission of the virus. It does not affect human health or affect other animal species.RHDV-2 can persist in the environment for a long time. These factors make disease control efforts extremely challenging once it is in the wild rabbit populations.

Clinical Signs
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 neurologic symptoms. Many of the rabbits confirmed with RDHV-2 recently in Arizona and New Mexico have shown no clinical signs or physical signs on examination other than sudden death.

Guidelines for Wild Cottontails, Hares and Pika

  • Please report any sick/dead wild rabbits, hares or pika to your local Colorado Parks and Wildlife office.
  • Do not handle rabbits or rodents that have been found dead. Although humans can not be infected with RHDV-2, multiple dead or sick rabbits can also be a sign of tularemia or the plague which can cause serious illness in people.
  • Do not allow pets or scavengers to feed on found carcasses. Though RHDV-2 is not a risk to pets other than domestic rabbits, several other pathogens and parasites from carcasses can affect pets.
  • Do not handle or consume rabbits or other game animals that appear to be sick. Instead, report these cases to the nearest Colorado Parks and Wildlife office.
  • Meat from healthy rabbits harvested by hunters is safe to consume when cooked thoroughly.
 

Prevention
A vaccine for RHDV2 is not currently available in Colorado (or the U.S). Rabbit owners should practice good biosecurity measures to protect their animals from the disease.

  • Wash your hands before and after working with rabbits
  • Do not share equipment with other rabbit owners.
  • Rabbit owners should also avoid contact with wild or feral rabbits.
  • Keep domestic rabbits indoors. Outdoor rabbits are a risk of coming into contact with wild rabbits carrying the disease.
  • Do not introduce new rabbits to your current rabbits from unknown sources or without a 2 month quarantine period.
  • Use separate equipment from newly acquired or sick rabbits to avoid spreading the disease.
  • Any equipment that has been outside should be thoroughly disinfected with a 10% bleach solution with a 20 minute contact time and rinsed well with water.
Reporting
  • Rabbit owners have been directed to contact their veterinarian with questions about the disease.
  • Veterinarians must report suspected RHDV2 cases in domestic rabbits to the state veterinarian’s office at 303-869-9130. Disease investigations will be completed by a Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostician.
Wildlife: report suspect cases to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife office