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Disease found in two jackrabbits found near Boise Airport

A new virus is killing rabbits in Arizona, officials say it is not related to COVID-19
Posted at 10:09 AM, Mar 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-26 12:09:17-04

BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Idaho State Department of Agriculture announced they have found Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease in two wild jackrabbits near the Boise Airport.

This is the first case of RHD in wild or domestic rabbits in Idaho, according to a news release. The disease is not known to affect humans, livestock or any species of pets. RHD has been identified in other states only in wild and domestic rabbits.

The release says RHD is highly contagious and often deadly in rabbits. The disease is spread through direct contact with an infected animal, carcass, contaminated food or water source or other material coming in direct contact with an infected rabbit. RHD can also be transmitted by insects like flies, fleas or mosquitos, making it hard to get rid of in wild rabbit populations.

The only clinical sign displayed by an infected rabbit is sudden death, according to the release. In less severe cases, signs may include dullness, loss of appetite, bloody nose and congestion of the conjunctiva, the mucous membrane that covers the front of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelids.

Some affected rabbits may develop neurologic signs such as incoordination or seizure-like episodes. Infections in young rabbits are usually less severe and death is not as likely, according to the release.

IDFG and ISDA released the following information if you see a dead rabbit:

  • Do not touch any dead rabbits you may see near an area where RHD has been identified. Anyone encountering a dead wild rabbit is asked to leave the carcass in place and contact the IDFG
  • Owners of domestic rabbits should never release their rabbits into the wild.

“Rabbit owners need to be practicing enhanced biosecurity measures at all of their operations,” said Dr. Scott Leibsle, State Veterinarian. “Prevention is the best disease mitigation strategy right now.”

ISDA recommends domestic rabbit owners and breeders of pet, show and meat production rabbits incorporate strict biosecurity measures to protect their rabbits and prevent the spread of the disease.

  • Do not house rabbits outdoors in areas where RHD has been detected in wild rabbits.
  • Take precautions to prevent wild rabbits from coming in contact with or gaining access to a rabbitry.
  • Wash your hands with warm soapy water before and after handling a rabbit. Wear protective clothing (boots, coveralls, etc.) when entering a rabbitry.
  • Equipment and cages moved on or off the premises should be cleaned and sanitized with 10% bleach water before returning to the rabbitry.
  • Domestic rabbits suspected of being infected with RHD should be isolated immediately from other rabbits and any enclosures should be disinfected thoroughly.

ISDA is not asking for any domestic rabbit shows or exhibitions to be canceled at this time. If you think your rabbit may have RHD, contact your veterinarian immediately and notify the ISDA as RHD is a mandatory reportable disease in Idaho.

The release says an approved RHD vaccine is not being made in the United States. Those looking to vaccinate their rabbits should contact their vet to arrange from import of a vaccine from European distributors. Vets will need to contact the ISDA about the import approval process. For more information, call 208-332-8540 or email info@isda.idaho.gov.