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Rabbit hemorrhagic disease confirmed in Arizona

Posted April 11, 2020


PHOENIX – The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) in conjunction with the Arizona Department of Agriculture (AZDA), has confirmed two separate cases of rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2) in cottontails (Sylvilagus audubonii), black-tailed jackrabbits (Lepus californicus) and domestic rabbits.

RHDV2 is not harmful to humans. It is a viral disease that causes sudden death in rabbits and can be spread through contact with infected rabbits, their meat or their fur, or materials coming in contact with them.

On March 25, the Arizona State Veterinarian’s Office received information from the State Veterinarian in New Mexico regarding a confirmed case of RHDV2 in a domestic rabbit. Dead cottontails and jackrabbits had also been found in the area. On April 2, New Mexico Game and Fish announced that RHDV2 had been detected in black-tailed jackrabbits and cottontails, representing the first detection of this virus in wild rabbits in the United States.

On April 1, the Arizona Game and Fish Department received two separate reports from wildlife managers in the Douglas area of dying cottontails and jackrabbits. A cottontail and black-tailed jackrabbit were collected and delivered on April 4 to Dr. Anne Justice-Allen, wildlife veterinarian for AZGFD. Lesions found were consistent with RHDV2, and the diagnosis was confirmed on April 8 by the USDA Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (FADDL). On April 6, the AZDA received a report of a sudden die off in a domestic rabbit population in northeastern Arizona, and RHDV2 was confirmed on April 9.

RHDV2 is a viral disease that only affects rabbits (not people, pets, or livestock). Until very recently, it was not known whether or not North American native rabbits would be susceptible to it. They are not susceptible to another strain of the virus, RHDV1. This virus is not related to coronavirus; it is a calicivirus. Infection with this virus is associated with a high mortality rate and it is quite contagious. The virus can survive in the environment for an extended period of time.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department is investigating reports of dead cottontails and jackrabbits in order to determine the geographic extent of this outbreak, and the impact on the cottontail and jackrabbit populations.

“There will likely be a pretty significant decrease in the rabbit populations as this disease spreads, but hopefully it will be limited to southeastern Arizona,” said Justice-Allen. “Eventually the rabbits will develop a level of immunity to the virus and the populations will recover. The Department recommends burying dead rabbits to reduce the risk of disease transmission.”

The presence of RHDV2 in the U.S. domestic rabbit industry or in the wild rabbit populations would potentially impact the pet rabbit industry; 4-H, FFA, and other hobby groups; exhibitions; laboratories; and the meat, pelt, and hunting sectors.

A vaccine for RHDV2 is not currently available in the U.S. Rabbit owners should practice good biosecurity measures to protect their animals from this disease, such as washing your hands before and after working with rabbits and not sharing equipment with other owners. Rabbit owners should also avoid contact with wild or feral rabbits.

Rabbit owners who have questions about this disease should contact their veterinarians. If a case is suspected, veterinarians should contact APHIS or email to contact the State Veterinarian’s Office. To report disease in wildlife, contact AZGFD at (623) 236-7201.

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