Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus Outbreak in Western States

NASHVILLE — The State of Tennessee wants to make Tennesseans aware, that in several western states, there is currently an outbreak of rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus type 2 (RHDV2). At present, RHDV2 has not been found in rabbits in Tennessee or any neighboring states.

The virus is highly contagious and lethal to wild and domestic rabbits and hares. In Tennessee, eastern cottontails, Appalachian cottontails, and swamp rabbits are susceptible to RHDV2.

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease is caused by one of several strains of calicivirus. The disease has been detected in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, and Utah. This strain of the virus is considered a foreign animal disease and is reportable to state and federal authorities. RHDV2 only infects rabbit species and is not known to affect humans, livestock, or other pets.

The virus can be transmitted through direct contact with infected rabbits or carcasses, meat or their fur, feces, bodily fluids, contaminated bedding materials, or other materials that have been contaminated. People can inadvertently spread the virus into new areas by moving infected live rabbits, carcasses or parts from infected animals, as well as on clothing and shoes. The virus can persist in the environment for an extended time, which makes it difficult to control the disease once it affects wild rabbit populations.

Infected rabbits may experience swelling, internal bleeding and liver damage. Disease onset is rapid. Although bleeding from the nose or mouth sometimes occurs, often the only outward sign is death of the rabbit.

People are asked to report rabbits that appear to be bleeding or sightings of multiple dead rabbits to a TWRA regional office. Do not handle dead rabbits. Although RHDV2 is not known to be infectious to humans, rabbits carry other diseases that can make people sick.

Visit the USDA website for the most current map of outbreaks of RHDV2 at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/maps/animal-health/rhd. If you travel to states that are currently experiencing die-offs and take part in outdoor activities, make sure to clean your clothing and disinfect your shoes before returning to Tennessee.

Hunters should wear gloves when field dressing rabbits, bury any remains onsite to prevent scavenging and wash their hands thoroughly when finished. Meat from healthy rabbits is safe to consume when cooked properly. If hunting outside of the state, it is recommended that no pieces or parts of harvested rabbits be brought back to Tennessee.

Falconers should avoid flying birds in areas known to have RHDV2 outbreaks, prevent birds from consuming dead or diseased rabbits, and sanitize gear between outings. If flying birds outside of Tennessee, it is recommended that no pieces or parts of rabbits be brought back to Tennessee.

Permitted wildlife rehabilitators should quarantine new rabbits admitted to their facilities for at least five days prior to co-mingling with other rabbits. If a die-off occurs in a rehabilitation facility and signs are consistent with RHDV2, it should be reported immediately to TWRA

Pet rabbit owners and breeders should avoid housing rabbits outside in areas known to have RHDV2 in wild rabbits. Additionally, pet rabbit owners should avoid purchasing rabbits from areas known to have the disease in domestic or wild rabbits. All animals, including rabbits, imported into the state of Tennessee require a certificate of veterinary inspection, even if just for exhibition. Breeders who experience a high number of sudden deaths should report the mortality event to the state veterinarian at 615-837-5120. Pet owners are encouraged to consult with their regular veterinarian for more information about RHDV2 in domestic rabbits.