Contagious Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Now Discovered in Uintah County

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources reported that rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHDV-2) has now been confirmed in wild rabbit populations in northeastern Utah.

RHDV-2 in Utah was first discovered on a private domestic rabbit farm before it was found in wild rabbit populations in southern Utah. The disease only affects rabbits, but humans and other animals can carry the virus around on foot or through other contaminated objects. The virus can survive for months and is transmitted from dead rabbit carcasses or through food, water, and other contaminated materials such as the urine or feces of diseased rabbits, or through contact with feces from predators that have eaten infected rabbits. Before the disease was discovered between Fort Duchesne and Lapoint in Uintah Counties, RHDV-2 was only found in San Juan, Wayne, Sanpete, and Iron Counties.

The signs of RHDV-2 in rabbits include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, and difficulty breathing with bleeding from the mouth or nose before death. The virus causes inflammation of the liver, which prevents the blood from clotting, and the rabbit eventually dies of internal bleeding. There is currently no treatment for RHDV-2, but a vaccine is in the works in Europe. DWR states that if you see multiple dead rabbits or rabbits with signs of the virus, leave them where they are, take a picture, record their location, and contact the nearest DWR office.

DWR encourages people to prevent the virus from infecting further rabbits as it is difficult – if not impossible – to control the disease once it is established in the wild. The DWR has provided the following guidelines to rabbit hunters who are more likely to come into contact with diseased rabbits:

  • Don’t harvest rabbits that appear sick or lethargic.
  • Wear rubber or disposable latex gloves when handling and cleaning the harvested game.
  • Decontaminate boots and other field equipment with a 10% bleach solution.
  • When cleaning harvested game, bag the leftovers and dispose of them in the trash. (Check the local regulations for the disposal of wild carcasses beforehand.)
  • Do not throw leftovers where other rabbits or scavengers could have access to them.
  • When you have finished processing your harvested game, wash your hands thoroughly with soap or disinfectant and disinfect all knives, equipment and surfaces that have come into contact with the game.
  • If subsequent contact with live rabbits is possible, hunters should shower and change clothes immediately after cleaning the harvested game.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke when handling harvested animals.
  • All harvested game should be thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
  • If you notice any discoloration or bleeding of any internal organs after the rabbit is removed, or if you see anything that may appear unusual or worrying, please contact your local DWR representative.

If you suspect RHDV-2 in a domestic rabbit, contact your veterinarian or state veterinary office immediately at (801) 982-2235. For more information about RHDV-2 in domestic rabbits, visit the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food website.

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