A devastating disease sometimes referred to as “rabbit Ebola” has been detected for the first time in Idaho, and state officials are warning pet rabbit owners to take precautions.
Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease, or RHD, is an incredibly deadly disease that spreads easily between rabbits. It is not known to affect humans, livestock, or other species of pets.
The Foreign Animal Diseases Diagnostic Laboratory in New York confirmed that two dead hares near the Boise airport tested positive for RHD Thursday night, the first time it has been detected in the state. They were initially submitted for testing on March 8 before being sent to FADDL for confirmation.
Idaho State Veterinarian Dr. Scott Leibsle said pet rabbit owners should take steps to protect their colonies, such as lifting them off the ground if they are small enough.
“Minimize any type of interaction with wild rabbits, any opportunity for that to happen, and then disinfect your boots or overalls, wash your hands before interacting with your rabbits before and after,” Leibsle said.
Often the only symptom a rabbit can show if it contracts the disease is sudden death. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, blood in the nose, and dullness.
RHD can survive on clothing or dead bodies for months and can also be transmitted by fleas, flies, and mosquitoes.
Leibsle said you should never touch a dead rabbit in the wild and to call Idaho Fish & Game if you find one.
Any domestic rabbit suspected of contracting RHD should be isolated immediately and its owner should notify their veterinarian and the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.
If the rabbit survives, Leibsle said it could still pass the disease on to other people.
“Those animals that do survive could certainly be at risk for continued shedding and transmission of the virus.”
The Idaho State Department of Agriculture has not ordered these animals to be euthanized, nor has it called for the rabbit shows to be canceled.
There is a vaccine available, but it is not readily available in the United States. It has to be imported from Europe with the approval of federal regulators.
Leibsle said rabbit owners who want to vaccinate their animals should form a group and approach a veterinarian who is willing to try importing them. He said he would then work with that vet to get the proper permits to get a mass shipment of vaccines to Idaho.
New Mexico became the first state to register a case of this RHD strain last year in wild rabbits. Since then, it has been detected in several other western states.
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