AGFC on lookout for ‘highly contagious’ rabbit virus

AGFC on lookout for ‘highly contagious’ rabbit virus
A new strain of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) affects both wild rabbits and those domestically raised, according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. (Source: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission)

JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - A highly contagious virus making its way through rabbit populations has both state and federal officials concerned.

A new strain of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) affects both wild rabbits and those domestically raised, according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

The virus has been around since the 1980s, but a new strain (RHDV-2) emerged ten years ago and has been sweeping across the United States.

“Arkansas’s two native rabbit species—the eastern cottontail and swamp rabbit—both can see large die-offs if the virus reaches the Natural State,” the AGFC said in a Wednesday news release.

“We haven’t found this disease in Arkansas, yet,” said Dr. Jenn Ballard, state wildlife veterinarian for the AGFC. “And we want to do everything we can to keep it from being introduced to our state.”

Cases of RHDV-2 have been detected in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas. It has also been reported in Mexico.

Ballard stresses that, unlike the bacterial disease tularemia (“rabbit fever”), RHDV-2 cannot be passed on to humans.

“Neither virus strain of RHDV is known to infect humans, other pets or livestock outside of the rabbit and hare family,” Ballard said. “But this virus has the potential to be very destructive in rabbit populations where it occurs, so we must stay vigilant.”

The virus poses a particular problem for many Arkansans who have begun breeding domestic rabbits as a food source.

There is also concern among rabbit owners that newcomers to the trade may not abide by the rules in purchasing and importing domestic rabbits, the AGFC said.

Ballard advises that anyone who finds a concentration of dead rabbits while in the outdoors to contact the AGFC’s wildlife health program immediately with coordinates of the location. Details can be emailed to agfc.health@agfc.ar.gov

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