Deadly Rabbit Virus Found in Palm Springs; First Sighting in California

Ceci Partridge

State and local officials are warning about a new, deadly virus targeting domestic and wild rabbits after the virus was detected in Palm Springs earlier this month — its first sighting in California.

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHDV2) is not related to the novel coronavirus and does not affect humans or domestic animals other than rabbits.

It had shown up in Mexico, and in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Texas since March, and was found in a black-tailed jackrabbit carcass submitted from private property near Palm Springs in early May, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“This is the first time this virus has jumped to our native wild rabbit populations, and we expect RHDV will now remain in this wild reservoir going forward and continue to threaten pet rabbits,” according to the California Animal Welfare Association. “…We expect it will be a matter of days to weeks before it reaches Northern California and the rest of the state. All domestic (pet) rabbits are at risk from this virus.”

“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.”

Dr. Sara Strongin, staff veterinarian for the Riverside County Department of Animal Services, 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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