Broomfield, Colo. – A highly contagious and fatal disease of rabbits and hares has been detected for the first time in Colorado. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) report that Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus type 2 (RHDV-2) was confirmed late last week in three wild cottontail rabbits approximately 10 miles southeast of Alamosa in Costilla County, CO. RHDV-2 does NOT affect humans or domestic species other than rabbits, but is highly contagious and lethal among rabbits.
RHDV-2 is considered a foreign animal disease and is of high concern at the state and federal levels. Until recently, RHDV-2 was not considered a virus that would infect North American cottontails or hares; however, cases have now been reported in New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. After these reports in other Western states, CPW and CDA increased efforts to raise awareness of the potential for this disease in Colorado.
CPW collected carcasses for testing after a report of dead wild rabbits in Costilla County on April 13th and submitted them to the CPW wildlife health laboratory for necropsy. Testing conducted by the USDA Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory was reported as positive for RHDV- 2 on April 17, 2020. Recent unusual mortalities in Colorado wild rabbits have only been reported in Costilla County to date, but CPW is requesting public assistance in identifying additional mortality events.
This virus has had significant impacts on domestic rabbits as well as wild rabbits and species that prey upon them in Europe. However, multiple dead or sick rabbits can also be a sign of tularemia or plague, diseases that can cause serious illness in people. Do not handle or consume sick or dead wildlife, and do not allow pets to contact or consume wildlife carcasses. RHDV-2 is from a different viral family than coronavirus and is not related to COVID-19.
Guidelines for Wild Cottontails, Hares, and Pika
Please report any sick/dead wild rabbits, hares or pika to your local CPW office.
Do not handle rabbits or rodents that have been found dead.
Do not allow pets or scavengers to feed on found carcasses. Though RHDV-2 is not a risk to pets other than domestic rabbits, a number of other pathogens and parasites from carcasses can affect pets.
Do not handle or consume rabbits or other game animals that appear to be sick. Instead, report these cases to the nearest CPW office.
Meat from healthy rabbits harvested by hunters is safe to consume when cooked thoroughly.
Guidelines for Domestic Rabbits
Rabbit owners should exercise extreme caution and biosecurity to avoid accidental exposure of domestic rabbits through contaminated feed, bedding, equipment, or clothing that may have come in contact from infected wild rabbits or birds that could transfer the virus from infected wild rabbits.
Domestic rabbits should not be housed outdoors in areas where rabbit hemorrhagic disease has been detected in wild rabbits.
Contact your veterinarian for more information about this disease in domestic rabbits.