Highly Contagious Rabbit Disease Concerns South Carolina Wildlife Officials

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Officials with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) are concerned about a rabbit disease that affects wild and domestic rabbits and is nearly always fatal.

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus-2 (RHDV2) is a highly contagious disease that affects all rabbits. Fortunately, humans are not susceptible to RHDV2, but they can inadvertently spread the virus.

“This is a highly contagious disease that can persist in the environment for a very long time,” said Michael Hook, Small Game Project leader with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). “These factors make disease control efforts extremely challenging once it is in wild rabbit populations.”

An outbreak began in 2020 in the southwestern U.S. and is causing the deaths of some species of native wild rabbits. Wild rabbits at breeding facilities, and pet rabbits may be also at risk. RHDV2 has been detected in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Wyoming, Mexico, and most recently in Florida.

Symptoms displayed by rabbits infected with RHDV2 may include any of the following: loss of appetite, lethargy, high fever, seizures, jaundice, bleeding from the nose, mouth, or rectum, difficulty breathing, and sudden death.

The virus is transmitted by direct and indirect contact, according to Hook. Direct contact occurs when a rabbit comes into physical contact with an infected rabbit or the urine or feces of an infected rabbit. Indirect contact occurs when a rabbit comes into contact with objects contaminated by the virus, including clothing worn by people who have handled contaminated objects or infected rabbits. Also, the virus can be spread through rabbit products such as fur, meat, or wool. Insects, birds, rodents, predators, and pets have also been known to spread RHDV2.

Hook said sick rabbits or rabbits found dead should not be collected or handled. If you find a dead rabbit in the wild or in a running enclosure, please leave the carcass and contact your local SCDNR biologist or conservation officer. If you have a sick or dead domestic rabbit take it to your local veterinarian who can send it to the Clemson Veterinary Diagnostic Center for examination.

“Educating yourself and others about RHDV2 is one of the best ways to help protect South Carolina’s rabbits,” Hook said.

Check https://www.clemson.edu/public/lph/ahp/species/rabbit.html for more detailed information.