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Here’s what you need to know about the deadly rabbit disease reported in Pennsylvania

Cases of a disease that can cause internal bleeding and sudden death in rabbits have been identified in Pennsylvania.

Two captive rabbits at a facility in Fayette County tested positive for rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2, one of the viruses that causes rabbit hemorrhagic disease, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

“RHD poses a significant threat to the commonwealth’s cottontail rabbit and snowshoe hare populations, and as such the Game Commission is taking this recent detection very seriously,” said Dr. Andrew Di Salvo, a state Game Commission veterinarian. “We are working diligently to learn more about this occurrence of RHD and determine what actions, if any, to take and when.”

Below, find out more about rabbit hemorrhagic disease:

Q. What is rabbit hemorrhagic disease?

A. Rabbit hemorrhagic disease is highly contagious and mostly fatal, causing high fevers in rabbits. It originated outside the U.S.

Q. Does it affect humans?

A. No. While the disease is mostly fatal to lagomorph species, including rabbits, hares and pikas, the USDA says it does not affect humans.

However, multiple dead or sick hares or rabbits can also be a sign of tularemia or plague, diseases that can cause serious illness in people, officials said. Residents should not handle or consume wildlife that is sick or has died from unknown causes, and should prevent pets from contacting or consuming wildlife carcasses.

Q. Is this the first time cases have been identified in the U.S.?

A. No. RHD was first identified in domestic rabbits in France in 2010, and it has since caused mass die-offs in wild hare and rabbit populations in several countries, state officials said. Cases were reported in the U.S. in early 2020 and the disease is already considered endemic in wild rabbit populations in some western states.

Q. Are there any cases in the area?

A. No. So far, the cases identified in the state were in Fayette County.

However, as of last month, it is considered endemic in wild hare and rabbit populations in many states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. It’s also been detected in domestic rabbit populations in those states, as well as in Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin.

Q. How does it spread?

A. The virus can be spread through direct contact or exposure to an infected rabbit’s excretions or blood, according to the USDA. It can also survive and spread from carcasses, food, water and any contaminated materials.

People can spread the virus indirectly by carrying it on their clothing and shoes.

Q. Are there treatments available?

A. No. There is no specific treatment, and it is 75%-100% fatal, with the potential to result in large, localized mortality events, officials said. Hares or rabbits that do not immediately die following infection may have poor appetites, lethargy and blood coming from their mouths or noses.

Vaccines are in use in Spain, France and some RHDV2-infected countries, according to the USDA. The vaccines are not licensed in the U.S., but may be authorized by the agency for use under specific situations.

Q. I have a pet rabbit. What do I need to know?

A. Rabbit owners who have questions about this disease should contact their veterinarians, who in turn should immediately report suspected cases to the state Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Animal Health at 717-772-2852, option 1, officials said. Veterinarians can call this line anytime.
How does the state plan on dealing with this?

The Board of Game Commissioners in March issued an executive order prohibiting the importation of any wild rabbit or hare, or any of their parts or products, including meat, pelts, hides and carcasses, from any state, province, territory or country where RHDV2 has been detected in wild or captive rabbit populations. The ban will remain in effect until further notice.

In April, officials voted to adopt a plan to keep cases out of the state, as well as efforts to keep the spread low once it arrived.

Q. Is there anything else residents should know?

A. Residents who keep rabbits can protect their pets by not allowing contact with wild rabbits, washing your hands before and after handling a rabbit and sanitizing equipment and cages, among other efforts.

Source: Berkshire mont

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