Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV)
April-August 2020: The ongoing outbreak in the southwestern U.S. has cases reported in both domestic and wild rabbits in:
Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico
 
** There is no known cure for RHDV, and a vaccine is not currently available in the United States. Follow the recommended biosecurity measures and stay aware of new information. Visit rabbit.org for more information about all current and past outbreaks. **

What is RHDV?

 

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) is a highly infectious, fatal disease that affects rabbits, caused by several calicivirus strains. RHDV initially appeared in China in 1984 and then spread to 40 countries around the world, but never became endemic within the United States. A new strain, RHDV2, first emerged in France in 2010, and then appeared in North America for the first time in 2018. In March of 2020, RHD2 was confirmed at a veterinary hospital in New York City. An ongoing outbreak in the southwestern U.S. now has cases reported in New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas in both domestic and wild rabbits.

 

RHDV2 is the first of the rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus strains to affect both domestic and North American wild rabbit and hare species. RHDV has an extremely high death rate and a very short incubation period. As many as 70%-100% of rabbits exposed to the virus will die within 48 hours to 10 days after exposure. Rabbits who survive are carriers and can infect other rabbits for at least 42 days or longer as they continue to shed the virus. 

There is no known cure for RHDV, and a vaccine is not currently available in the United States. 

RHDV causes lesions in internal organs and tissues, causing bleeding. RHDV kills quickly and with very little warning, and some rabbits may die without showing any symptoms. 

Symptoms Include: 

  • Appetite loss

  • Lethargy

  • High fever 

  • Spasms

  • Bleeding from nose, mouth, or rectum

  • Difficulty breathing 

  • Sudden death

How RHD2 Spreads

RHDV is extremely hardy and easily spread through direct contact with an infected rabbit, the urine or feces of an infected rabbit, and contact with inanimate objects contaminated by the virus. It can survive on the bodies and fur of both live and deceased animals, as well as in food, water, and on other contaminated materials, including hands, clothing and shoes.  

Other animals including insects, cats and dogs, birds, rodents, and wild predators, though not susceptible to the disease themselves, are known to act as hosts or fomites and spread the virus. 

 

RHDV is resistant to extreme temperatures, including freezing, and is known to survive on materials shipped to other parts of the country and the world. RHDV remains viable on surfaces and in the environment for long periods of time: 105 days at room temperature, and 225 days at 39 degrees F. It can resist temperatures of 122 degrees F for an hour. 

Biosecurity Practices

Because there is no known cure for RHDV and no vaccine available in the United States, preventative biosecurity measures must be strictly followed. 

  • As always, house rabbits indoors and do not take rabbits out into public spaces for any reason other than essential trips (to the vet). Never take your rabbit to socialize with other rabbits or to "play" outdoors.  

  • Wash your hands thoroughly upon entering your home from outside.

  • Remove shoes before entering your home. To disinfect shoes, put them into a foot bath for at least 10 minutes with one of the recommended disinfectants (see list below). Spraying them is insufficient; they must remain in contact with active (wet) disinfectant for the full 10 minutes.  

  • Change clothes upon returning home, particularly from areas where you may have come into contact with rabbits, or with other people who have rabbits. 

  • Disinfect objects and surfaces (see list below for recommended disinfectants). 

  • Do not purchase hay or other foods farmed in areas that have been affected by RHDV (visit https://rabbit.org/rhdv for a list of all recent North American outbreaks)

  • Prevent flies and other insects from entering your home with window and door screens, and eliminate any that enter your home.

*If you know you have come into contact with other rabbits or or been around other people who have rabbits (you are a shelter volunteer, etc), take extreme care to wash shoes and clothes thoroughly twice with hot water, wash hands thoroughly, and disinfect any objects or surfaces that were exposed to areas with other rabbits. If you know that you will be entering an environment with other rabbits, consider additional precautions such as shoe covers and gloves.   

 

Any sudden or suspicious death should be immediately reported to a veterinarian as a possible case of RHDV. This is especially important in the event of multiple deaths in close proximity and within a short period of time. Do not bury the body or remove the rabbit from the home; wait for instructions about proper handling procedures.     

Disinfectants that are effective against RHDV:

  • Accelerated hydrogen peroxide: Rescue wipes or solution (formerly “Accel”), Prevail, and Peroxigard).

    • Note: This is NOT the same as the bottles of hydrogen peroxide you can purchase at a pharmacy. 

  • Household bleach in a 1:10 dilution (not safe to use nearby rabbits and must be thoroughly rinsed off after use)

  • Potassium peroxymonosulfate (1% Virkon S)

Additional Resources and Reports

USDA RHD2 Fact Sheet

The Center for Food Security & Public Health and the Institute for International Cooperation in Animal Biologic

House Rabbit Society Website

Southwest US faces lethal rabbit disease outbreak

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