MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – Researchers say a deadly rabbit hemorrhagic disease, RHDV2, is spreading in the United States
In response to the outbreak, the UW Veterinary Care Special Species Health Service at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine is offering an emergency licensed vaccine against the disease in rabbits.
The clinic is one of a dozen veterinary hospitals in the state to offer the vaccine and is part of a growing nationwide effort to encourage rabbit owners to get vaccinated.
UW Veterinary Care offers the RHDV2 vaccine on Fridays every three weeks through the Special Species Health Service.
Not all Wisconsin rabbit patients and owners need to be established customers with UW Veterinary Care to get an appointment.
Kurt Sladky, a veterinarian and clinical professor of zoological medicine and special species health at the UW School of Veterinary Medicine, thinks the virus is likely in Wisconsin despite a lack of detected cases.
“Some wild rabbits, if found dead with suspected disease, are referred to labs equipped to make the diagnosis, such as the National Wildlife Health Center here in Madison,” Sladky said. “But there’s no easy way to find and track how many people died in the wild.”
Skadly said the disease is devastating. Once rabbits have the virus, they usually bleed to death, with the expected mortality rate being 70-100% of infected rabbits.
The virus spreads easily through contact with bodily secretions such as saliva, urine, and blood. It can live for up to a month on surfaces.
“Your rabbit could be infected through urine, feces, blood…even a fly could land on a carcass with the virus and transmit it to another rabbit if the fly’s legs come in direct contact with the nose. from another rabbit,” Sladky said. “It’s so easily transmitted from rabbit to rabbit.”
Pet rabbits also become vulnerable, according to Sladky. The global spread of the disease is thought to be the result of rabbit shows and meat production lines.
In 2021, UW Veterinary Care hosted nearly 800 rabbit patient visits.
In addition to the vaccine, Sladky recommends other measures to protect rabbits. Although the weather is warming, rabbits should refrain from exercising outdoors until they have received the RHDV2 vaccine.
Additionally, rabbit owners should purchase food from trusted sources. Contact between rabbits, especially wild rabbits, remains essential.
“We are trying to educate customers that a significant infectious rabbit disease is spreading state to state,” Sladky said. “You should think about the ways your pet rabbit could be exposed and the potential consequences.”
Although the disease is highly transmissible in rabbits, it is not transmitted to other species or to humans.
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