Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus-2

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus-2 (RHDV2), a highly contagious and lethal disease of rabbits, has now been confirmed in a desert cottontail in Boulder City, Nevada. It has also been found in domestic and wild rabbits in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Utah, and California.

RHDV2 is a foreign animal disease and this represents the first outbreak among wild, North American rabbits. Reports from Arizona and New Mexico have shown large numbers of dead cottontails and black- tailed jackrabbits on the landscape. It is possible that mortality will exceed 80% among affected populations. While we do not know the susceptibility of other northern American lagomorphs at this point, we are assuming that all North American rabbits and hares, as well as pikas, are susceptible. This disease is also a significant concern for animals that rely on lagomorphs as their prey base.

RHDV2 is caused by a calicivirus and is unrelated to COVID-19. While humans and other animals are not susceptible, they can spread the disease. The virus is incredibly hardy, surviving over 100 days in the environment under dry conditions. The virus can be spread through contact with infected animals, their meat/fur, bedding material, urine and feces, housing, equipment, clothing, boots, truck tires, and the like. Scavengers, predators, and insects may also spread the disease.

We want to act quickly to limit the spread of RHDV2 in Nevada. Below you will find guidance on protecting Nevada’s wildlife.

General guidance for field work and recreation:

We want everyone to be vigilant for any possible cases of RHDV2 in wild rabbits. Animals often die quickly and often have no obvious outward signs. They are often in good body condition. Blood around the nose may be seen.

  • Please report any mortalities of 3 or more cottontails or jackrabbits, any mortalities of pygmy rabbits and pikas, and any lagomorph mortalities where signs include blood coming from nose or mouth, unless the cause is obvious (i.e. roadkill).Report mortalities to the NDOW veterinarian (Dr. Nate LaHue) at nate.lahue@ndow.org or the Reno office at: 775-688-1500.
  • If you find a dead or dying rabbit, consider scanning the area for more mortalities.
  • Do not handle sick or dead wild rabbitsunless you have prior approvalfrom NDOW for carcass collection. While RHDV2 does not affect people, other diseases that affect rabbits, such as plague and tularemia, can be deadly to people.
  • Do not let pets come into contact with dead rabbits
  • Since the virus is very hardy, every effort should be made to prevent transmission of the disease through field work.
  • No equipment used in the field in states or Nevada counties with current RHDV2 cases should be used elsewhere Nevada without disinfection with 10% bleach, 1% Virkon, 2%
  • Environ, or 1% Sodium hydroxide. Anything disinfected should sit for at least 10 minutes before rinsing. Quaternary ammonium compounds are not effective against RHDV2.
  • All equipment, clothing, and boots should be also be cleaned and disinfected between sites in Nevada as well. Pay special attention to potential sources of exposure, such as raptor nests and rabbit burrows. If you discover mortalities and are driving off paved roads, wash your vehicle and disinfect, especially tires.
  • Since carcasses can be a source of infection, burying or incineration of carcasses may be considered when not all carcasses are being sent for testing. This will be done at the discretion of the wildlife health team. Do not dispose of any suspect carcass in the regular trash.
 

Handling, trapping, and movement of lagomorphs:

The most high-risk activity is the movement of lagomorphs or handling of lagomorphs at multiple sites. RHDV2 can be spread by inhalation, contact with equipment, insects, urine and feces, or scavengers.

  • Please cease all movement of lagomorphs or carcasses other than for diagnostic testing. Extenuating circumstances should be discussed with the NDOW veterinarian, Dr. Nate LaHue (nate.lahue@ndow.org).
  • Lagomorphs (live or dead) should not be used as bait.
  • When trappingor handling lagomorphs all equipment shouldbe disinfected between animals. Disposable gloves should be worn and changed between animals.
  • Disinfection can be achieved using disinfectants listed above. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes before rinsing.
  • In addition,clothing and boots should be disinfected betweensites. The best way to achieve this is to change clothing and to disinfect boots with 10% bleach. Clothing should be washed with hot water and bleach.
  • Equipment that cannot be disinfected shouldnot be used or new ones shouldbe used for each site.
  • This does not changePPE use for pikas to protect workersfrom plague. New PPE should be used at each site.
  • If you come across dead rabbits while trapping, do not continue with the trapping effort and contact NDOW.

Rehabilitation of lagomorphs:

Rehabilitation of lagomorphs has the potential to spread RHDV2 quickly around the state. Please follow the guidance to prevent rehabilitation from being a source of RHDV2.

  • Do not accept any rabbits from RHDV2 positive counties (currently Clark County).
  • Separate injuredand ill rabbits as well as rabbitsfrom different parts of the state. Practice good biosecurity between sets of rabbits
  • Report mortalities as well as any sick rabbits with clinical signs consistent with RHDV2 (poor appetite, fever, inactivity, or bloody nose) to the NDOW veterinarian (nate.lahue@ndow.org). Do not dispose of mortalities unless from trauma prior to speaking with the NDOW veterinarian. These mortalities should be disposed of by burying or incineration.
  • Clean and disinfect all surfaces and equipment with 1:10 household bleach with a contact time of at least 10 minutes. Use disposable gowns and gloves when handling rabbits
  • Control for pests than can spreadthe disease such as biting flies and other insects. Protect food from flies, birds, and rodents.
  • Hold ill rabbits for at least 30 days prior to release. Speak with the NDOW veterinarian prior to releasing rabbits. The general guidance will be to only release rabbits in the area they were found.
  • Those with pet rabbits at home should avoid working with wild rabbits.
 

For those that own pet rabbits:

Special care must be taken if you work with wild rabbits and have pet rabbits at home.

  • Never use any equipment, clothing, or boots for field work that you use with your pet rabbit
  • We recommend that you remove any work clothing and shower after handling wild lagomorphs and before coming in contact with your pet rabbit.
  • Do not wear anything into the field that comes into contact with your pet rabbit or surfaces it comes in contact with. It may be preferable to change into work clothes at the office before heading into the field.
  • In general,it is good practice to prevent your pet rabbitfrom coming into contact with wild rabbits.
  • If you have questionsor concerns about your domesticrabbits, please contactyour veterinarian. 

Additional guidance for Hunters and Falconers

  • Wear disposable gloves when field dressing rabbits and hares and bury any remains to prevent scavenging.
  • Do not allow dogs or other pets to come into contact with rabbits.
  • Clean clothing by washing in hot water, detergent, and bleach and clean field gear and boots with 10% bleach prior to moving areas.
  • Do not use any equipment that was used in states or Nevada counties with cases of RHDV2 unless the equipment has been thoroughly disinfected (10% bleach for at least 10 min).
  • Do not move rabbit carcasses unless moving meat for consumption by yourself or others.
  • Do not move carcasses to feed to falcons and do not bring in carcasses from out of state. After eating an infected rabbit, a falcon may excrete the virus in their feces, and potentially move it to new areas.
  • Raptors may be able to move RHDV2. Try to avoid contact between rabbit carcasses and your birds. If you have flown your bird in an area with RHDV2 wait at least a week before hunting with it in another area to limit the chance of virus being spread in feces.
 

To report dead or sick rabbits:

 Domestics: Rabbit owners with questions about RHDV2 should contact their veterinarian.

 Wildlife: Dead or sick wild rabbits, hares, and pikas should be reported to by calling the Reno office at 775-688-1500 or emailing Dr. Nate LaHue at nate.lahue@ndow.org.

 For more information: