Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus type 2 (RHDV2) is a highly contagious and fatal disease of rabbits. A U.S. outbreak began in New Mexico in March 2020, and the disease has been slowly spreading. The disease has not yet been found in Michigan, but due to the impact it could have on rabbits, it is important to be aware of RHDV2 and take precautions now.
RHDV2 is caused by a calicivirus, and while it does not affect humans or other species, it affects both domestic and wild rabbits and hares. The onset of the disease is rapid, and sudden death may be the only sign. Other symptoms include fever, inappetence, poor coordination, respiratory issues, diarrhea or constipation, and a bloody discharge from the nostrils. If a rabbit contracts the disease, it will almost certainly not survive it.
The disease is spread when a rabbit has contact with an infected rabbit or with something that has touched an infected rabbit. People can spread the virus by moving infected rabbits (either live or dead rabbit parts) and with clothing and shoes that have had contact with infected rabbits. The virus is also present in all secretions and excretions (blood, feces, and urine), and it can survive extreme temperatures for a lengthy period of time in the environment.
There is currently no licensed vaccine for use in the United States. There are two vaccines in the EU that may be imported for emergency use, but only under the direction of State Animal Health Officials after there has been a confirmed case in Michigan.
You can help to prevent the virus from being introduced to our state by:
- Avoiding the purchase of rabbits from RHDV2 areas (or unknown sources).
- Isolating new rabbits for at least 30 days.
- Washing your hands before and after handling a rabbit.
- Cleaning and disinfecting items and surfaces a rabbit has touched or used regularly.
- Preventing the sharing of items between different groups of rabbits.
- Controlling flies and rodents.
- Refraining from feeding a domestic rabbit outdoor forage.
- Restricting the public's contact with your rabbits.
RHDV2 is considered a foreign animal disease and is reportable to state and federal authorities. A suspicion of RHDV2 in domestic rabbits may be reported to the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development at 800-292-3939. A suspicion of RHDV2 in deceased wild rabbits or hares may be reported to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Disease Laboratory at 517-336-5030.