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It seems these days there are so many things jockeying for our attention, the increasing prevalence of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), the global pandemic, and now the invasion of Ukraine. With such large and looming happenings in the forefront, the rapid spread of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHDV2) affecting wild populations has mostly flown under the radar, but in December of 2021, there was a new detection of RHDV2 in a wild jackrabbit in California, in San Benito County, the first since August (CDFA 2021).
The strain was first detected in the United States in Ohio in 2018 then again in February 2020 in a domestic rabbit in New York City (USDA 2020) for the third time since 2018 and has since spread through multiple states including Arizona, California, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon, Idaho, South Dakota, Georgia, Minnesota, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The first detections of the disease in wild rabbit populations were detected in New Mexico in April of 2020. Since that time there has been a rapid spread among wild populations. As of January 4, 2021, cases in wild populations have been reported in Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Texas, Colorado, and Wyoming (USDA 2022). The virus has a history of rapid spread and population devastation in other parts of the world including Europe and Australia. RHVD2 arrived in Australia in 2015 and has reduced the population in some areas by up to 80% (Cima 2020).
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RDHV2 only affects lagomorphs (rabbits, hares, and pikas), it is not known to affect humans; however, the disease is highly contagious for rabbit and hare populations, is resistant to extreme temperatures, and can be spread through direct contact between animals or exposure to infected meat, fur, and contaminated food, water, or materials. The onset of the disease can be rapid, with death caused by internal bleeding; potential signs of death from RDHV2 include blood at the nose and mouth (CDFW 2020).
How can we help as hunters? If you observe sick or dead rabbits, jackrabbits, hares, or pikas, report it to CDFW in California here: (916) 358-2790 or fill out an online mortality report on CDFW’s website. If you’re outside of California, contact your state’s fish and wildlife agency. CDFW also recommends that hunters wear gloves when field-dressing rabbits and bury any remains onsite deep enough to prevent scavenging and wash hands when finished. Disinfecting clothing and boots by washing with bleach before traveling to other areas or interacting with domestic rabbits is also recommended.
California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). 2021. Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease December 2021 Update. CDFA – AHFSS – AHB – Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (ca.gov) Accessed February 25, 2022.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2020. Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease. Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Quick Facts (ca.gov). Accessed February 25, 2022.
Cima, Greg. 2020. Virus Killing Rabbits in Western U.S. American Veterinary Medical Association. Published July 2015. Virus killing rabbits in Western U.S. | American Veterinary Medical Association (avma.org) Accessed February 25, 2022.