Rabbit hemorrhagic disease confirmed in wild rabbits in Wayne County

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease has now been confirmed in wild rabbit populations in Wayne County after being confirmed in domestic rabbits in Sanpete County in June.

Utah wildlife officials want hunters and farmers to be aware of rabbit hemorrhagic disease after finding the deadly virus in both wild and domestic rabbit populations in two central Utah counties.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources announced on July 21 that lab testing revealed rabbit hemorrhagic disease serotype 2, or RHDV-2, in dead wild rabbits in Wayne County. On June 22, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food detected the disease in domestic rabbits on a private farm in Sanpete County.

While only domesticated rabbits can be infected with RHDV-1, RHDV-2 can also infect cottontail rabbits, jackrabbits and hares, according to the state agriculture and food department.

Humans, dogs and other animals are not susceptible to RHDV-2 but can carry the virus, which has an 80% to 100% mortality rate in domesticated and wild rabbits.

“Rabbits may become sick one to five days after exposure and have symptoms of fever, lethargy, a lack of appetite, difficulty breathing and frothy blood coming from their nose just prior to death,” the DWR said on an informational page about RHDV-2. “The virus causes liver inflammation that prevents blood from clotting and eventually the rabbit dies from internal hemorrhage (bleeding). There is no treatment for RHDV-2.”

The disease was first identified in domestic rabbits in Europe and has since spread throughout the Southwestern United States, including in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Nevada and California.

An interactive graph by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that, as of Wednesday, RHDV-2 has been confirmed in domestic and wild rabbits in nearly every Arizona county, including the four counties that border southern Utah. Montezuma County in Colorado, which is adjacent to Utah’s southeast corner, has had confirmed cases in domestic rabbits.

RHDV-2 can survive for months in the wild, according to the DWR, and rabbits can be infected “by direct contact to sick rabbits or through contact with the urine or feces of sick rabbits or through contact with feces from predators that have eaten infected rabbits.”

Additionally, rabbits can contract the disease after coming in contact with contaminated surfaces or items, such as boots or clothing.

In order to prevent further spread of the disease, the state agriculture department is prohibiting rabbits or hares from being shipped to Utah from areas where the disease has been detected in the last 12 months unless the live animals receive a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection 72 hours prior.

“No rabbits and hares or rabbit and hare products (meat, pelts, hides, carcasses, etc.) and equipment or other items or associated materials may enter Utah from a premises known to be affected with RHD,” the agriculture and food department said.

Cottontail and snowshoe rabbits are both popular species to hunt in Utah during the fall hunting season. The DWR said Utahns should be aware of the disease when they go hunting later this year.

“The disease is highly infectious and causes rapid death, so if the rabbit you harvested seemed to act normally at the time of the hunt, it is unlikely that it has the disease,” the state wildlife division said. “However, if you notice any discoloration or hemorrhages on internal organs after harvesting the rabbit or if you see anything that may appear abnormal or a cause for concern, please contact your local DWR office.”

The central region DWR office can be reached at (801) 491-5678. The DWR recommended that anyone who suspects RHDV-2 in a domestic rabbit contact the state veterinarian at (801) 982-2235.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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