Deadly Rabbit Virus RHDV2 Detected in Orange County

SAN CLEMENTE (CNS) - A deadly virus targeting domestic and wild rabbits has been detected in Orange County, state wildlife officials confirmed. Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHDV2) is not related to the novel coronavirus and does not affect humans or domestic animals other than rabbits.

“A dead desert cottontail rabbit was found in a green space area of San Clemente on June 15,” Tim Daly, spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told City News Service on Wednesday. “We received confirmation from the USDA Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab that it had RHD on June 22 and posted that finding on our website shortly after. “…Since detection of the initial case in San Clemente we have received two reports of dead rabbits in Orange County, one from Ladera Ranch and a second from Capistrano Beach,” he added.

The virus had shown up in Mexico, and in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Texas before it was found in a black-tailed jackrabbit carcass submitted from private property near Palm Springs in May -- its first sighting in California.

“Infected rabbits and jackrabbits may exhibit no symptoms leading up to their sudden death, or may suffer from fever, swelling, internal bleeding and liver necrosis,” a CDFW statement said. “The range of susceptible species in North America is currently unknown, but all rabbit, jackrabbit, hare and pika species are likely susceptible.”

The CDFW web site also reports that the virus has been detected in San Diego and San Bernardino counties, raising fears that Los Angeles County will be next.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health says RHDV2 is not a food safety concern and the disease holds no risk to humans, but the department is urging all rabbit owners and veterinarians to learn about the virus and how to protect rabbits. A vaccine has been developed and is available on order. Domestic rabbit owners are encouraged to contact their veterinarian for more information.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture recently put a quarantine in place in which “No rabbit, hare, or their product (meat, pelts, hides, carcasses, etc.) or equipment used to process rabbits may enter California from states or counties where RHD has been diagnosed within the previous year.”

Officials have issued the following guidelines for those who own domestic rabbits or who come into contact with wild hares:

  -- House rabbits should remain inside at all times to minimize potential contact;

  -- Any sick or dead rabbits should be reported to state wildlife officials and should NOT be touched;

  -- Any unusual illness or sudden rabbit deaths should be reported to your veterinarian immediately;

  -- The virus is highly contagious, and can be spread by direct contact with infected animals and/or their urine/feces; can also be spread on contaminated objects, insects, etc., therefore good hygiene practices are necessary -- i.e. wash hands thoroughly before and after handling rabbits, thorough disinfection, leave shoes outside, insect control, etc.

  -- Know your hay/feed sources and if they are near areas affected by the outbreak;

  -- Keep dogs on a leash when outside so they don't interact with wild rabbits; consider having dogs wear booties when outside, or wash their paws before they come inside. Keep dogs and rabbits in separate areas of your home.

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