PROVIDENCE – The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is advising Rhode Islanders that a fatal disease affecting rabbits has been detected in North America and is asking residents to report unusual cases of rabbit mortality to DEM. Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2) is a highly contagious disease that affects both domestic and wild rabbits including hares, jackrabbits and cottontails. The threatened New England Cottontail and commonly seen Eastern Cottontail are susceptible to infection and mortality from this disease.
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.
The RHDV2 virus is very resistant to extreme temperatures. It can be spread through direct contact or from exposure to an infected rabbit’s excretions or blood. The virus can also survive and spread from carcasses, food, water, and any contaminated materials. People can spread the virus indirectly by carrying it on their clothing and shoes. However, RHDV2 does not impact human health and is not related to coronavirus.
A vaccine for RHDV2 is not currently available in the United States. Until a vaccine is available, the implementation of sound biosecurity measures is the only means to minimize risk of infection. Biosecurity means taking simple steps every day to keep germs and viruses away from your animals.
Once RHDV2 infects a wild rabbit population it is very difficult to manage or eliminate. It took less than two years for the disease to spread across Australia to all of the country’s states and territories in 2015-2016.
More information on RHDV2 and a list of recommended biosecurity practices is available on DEM’s website at http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/bnatres/fishwild/pdf/disease-rabbit-hemo.pdf