MCNEAL — Another virus has invaded southern Arizona, except this one’s host is rabbits, both domestic and wild, and not humans.
Thanks to cautionary McNeal resident Michael Gregory, who found a few dead rabbits on his land and reported them to the Arizona Department of Agriculture (AzDA), a confirmation of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 (RHDV2) presence in Cochise County was confirmed.
His dog took ill and a visit to the veterinarian for bad diarrhea, but the test results were negative for just about everything pathological. He was not sure his dog would survive with whatever afflicted it.
As he walked his property, he noticed a dead rabbit and wondered if the uneaten carcass might be an answer to the problem. He called Arizona Department of Game and Fish (AzDGF) who picked up the body a few days later.
By ingesting a diseased rabbit, the dog may have ended up with abdominal issues, but the veterinarian could not say that definitively, said Gregory. The disease is not known to affect other animals or pets.
However, if the dog had not been seriously ill, the discovery of the diseased rabbits may have gone undetected.
Then over the next few days, he found more rabbit bodies and notified AzDGF.
RHDV2 is a viral disease that causes sudden death in rabbits and can be spread through contact with infected rabbits, their meat or their fur, or materials coming in contact with them, according to a statement released by Mark Killian, director of AzDA Monday.
“On April 1, AzDGF received two separate reports from wildlife managers in the Douglas area of dying cottontails and jackrabbits,” Killian said in the statement. “A cottontail and black-tailed jackrabbit were collected and delivered on April 4 to Dr. Justice–Allen, wildlife veterinarian for AzDGF. Lesions were found consistent with RHDV2. Samples from these rabbits were sent to the FADDL at Plum Island. On April 8, the laboratory confirmed that these animals had died from RHDV2.”
The rabbit die off is also occurring in northeastern Arizona, he noted.
“RHDV2 is a viral disease that only affects rabbits — not people, pets, or livestock. Until very recently, it was not known whether or not North American native rabbits would be susceptible to it. They are not susceptible to another strain of the virus, RHDV1,” he stated.
The presence of RHDV2 in the U.S. domestic rabbit industry or in the wild rabbit populations would potentially impact the pet rabbit industry, 4–H, Future Farmers of America and other hobby groups, as well as exhibitions, laboratories and the meat, pelt and hunting sectors, he added.
It comes on the heels of a release by the Veterinarian of New Mexico where the diseased domestic rabbits were also found in early April in five counties. The Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (FADDL) confirmed RHDV2 was also found in a wild black-tailed jackrabbit and wild cottontails, representing the first detection of this virus in wild rabbits in the U.S., Killian explained.
“A vaccine for RHDV2 is not currently available in the U.S. Rabbit owners should practice good biosecurity measures to protect their animals from this disease, such as washing your hands before and after working with rabbits and not sharing equipment with other owners,” Killian cautioned.
People and pets should avoid any contact with wild or feral rabbits. Killian recommended dead rabbits be buried to reduce the risk of disease transmission.
Rabbit owners with questions about this disease should contact their veterinarians, he advised.
If a case is suspected, veterinarians should contact USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service or email firstname.lastname@example.org for wildlife issues.