Vt Fish & Wildlife Warns About Rabbit Virus
MONTPELIER, Vt. — Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus, a highly contagious virus capable of affecting rabbits and snowshoe hare, is appearing in states close to Vermont and Massachusetts and may show up here according to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.
There have been no cases in either state but Connecticut Department of Agriculture this week confirmed an outbreak in Hartford County that killed 14 domestic rabbits. The disease has also been found in New York State and New Jersey.
The department does not think this virus, designated RHDV2, is present in Vermont at this time, but it is thought to be spreading eastward from the western United States. The virus does not affect other wildlife, humans or pets, except rabbits.
It spreads through direct contact with infected rabbits or indirectly through contact with contaminated surfaces.
Sudden mortality in healthy rabbits occurs with this virus, and infected rabbits may be lethargic, reluctant to move, or have blood coming out of the nostrils or mouth.
The disease has caused die-offs in wild rabbits in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas and Utah beginning in 2020 and was first detected in domestic rabbits in New York that same year.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the virus is spread through exposure or contact with an infected rabbit's excretions or blood. It can survive and spread from carcasses, food, water, and any contaminated materials and people can spread the virus indirectly by carrying it on their clothing and shoes.
There is no U.S. approved vaccine although Connecticut approved the sale of an unlicensed vaccine under emergency authorization last year.
The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources recommends isolating pet and domestic rabbits
from any possible contact with their wild cousins. Any new or returning rabbits to a colony should be quarantined for 14 days and watched closely; handlers should take sanitary precautions and use separate equipment to prevent any possible contamination between colonies.
Vermont Fish and Wildlife advises hunters not to harvest rabbits that appear sick.
"If you find a wild dead rabbit and it's not obvious what killed it, please contact us," said David Sausville with Fish and Wildlife.
"When hunters are field-dressing rabbits, wear disposable gloves, securely bag entrails and other remains, and dispose of them in the trash. Do not discard remains where other animals may have access to them."
Similar to all wild game preparation, you should wear disposable gloves and refrain from eating, drinking and smoking while handling and cleaning game. Meat should be cooked thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165 degrees and all surfaces in contact with meat should be cleaned and disinfected.