CHRISTMAS VALLEY, Ore. — Oregon wildlife officials say that they have encountered the first confirmed cases of a deadly rabbit disease among populations in the wild, after discovering several dead jackrabbits near Christmas Valley in Lake County.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife underlined that rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2) poses no human health risk, but it can cause rapid death for rabbits and hares.
"RHDV2 is a viral disease that causes high mortality in populations and rapidly leads to death in rabbits," the agency said in a statement. "The virus can survive outside of the live animal under a range of temperatures and can survive in the environment in rabbit feces and on surfaces for weeks to months under favorable conditions."
The virus can spread through direct contact between infected and susceptible rabbits, in addition to exposure to contaminated materials. Predators, insects, and people can also spread the virus through contact.
RHDV2 was first detected in Oregon in March of this year, but these case were among domestic rabbits within the greater Portland area.
In May, wildlife officials were alerted to several dead black-tailed jackrabbits in the Christmas Valley area that showed signs of the disease. Samples were collected from one of the jackrabbits, and a federal lab confirmed the presence of RHDV2 last week.
ODFW warned rabbit hunters to take extra precautions, especially if they have any contact with pet or domestically raised rabbits.
“If you have pet rabbits, do not handle dead wild rabbits in the field and then go home and handle your own pet or domestic rabbits as you may spread the disease,” said Colin Gillin, ODFW state wildlife veterinarian. “Wear nitrile gloves when handling and then shower and wash clothes before getting near any other rabbits.
"It’s important to take every precaution not to transfer the disease to domestic rabbits. And rabbits can also carry diseases that can infect people including tularemia, so it’s always a good practice to protect yourself.”
State officials said that they will continue to collect and test recently dead and sick rabbit in Oregon in order to track the current spread of the disease.
ODFW gave the following tips to avoid spreading the RHDV2 virus:
- If sick or dead rabbits are observed in an area, do not hunt, run dogs, or fly falconry birds in that area. Contact ODFW immediately at 866-968-2600.
- Avoid rabbit hunting in areas in states where RHDV2 outbreaks have been recently documented. Contact the state wildlife agency where you will be hunting for information on where RHDV2 has been identified.
- After handling wild rabbits, wash hands and change clothing and footwear before handling or caring for domestic rabbits.
- Do not eat, drink, or smoke while handling animals.
- Take precautions when handling harvested rabbits, which can carry other diseases including tularemia that can be fatal to people. Wear rubber, nitrile, or disposable latex gloves while handling and cleaning rabbits and other game. Wash hands thoroughly with warm water and soap or sanitizer after handling game. Disinfect all knives, equipment, and surfaces that were in contact with game.
- Thoroughly cook all game to an internal temperature of 165°F.
- Do not feed game meat from wildlife that appear sick, are found dead, or test positive for a contagious disease to people or pets, including falconry birds.
For those raising domestic rabbits (also talk to your veterinarian for advice):
- Minimize exposure to wild rabbits and hares by keeping your rabbits in hutches or cages that are elevated off the ground.
- Keep pet rabbits inside to avoid exposure to environments potentially contaminated by wild/feral rabbits or by people, vehicles or implements that can spread the disease.
- Do not allow your rabbits to graze or roam in a yard if wild rabbits are present in your area.
- Restrict visitors to your rabbitry and limit the handling of the animals by visitors.
- Avoid transporting or importing domestic rabbits.
- After visiting a show, fair, or meeting where rabbits were comingled, shower and change clothes before handing your rabbits.
- Quarantine new rabbits away from existing ones for 30 days.
- Know the health status of the rabbitry from which you purchase rabbits.
- Be aware of the rabbit disease status of the state or country of origin of any equipment or supplies that you are purchasing.
- Wash and disinfect hands, clothing, gloves, footwear, cages, and equipment between rabbits from different sources. (RHDV is inactivated by 10% bleach to water solution.)
- Immediately contact ODA (800-347-7028) if you suspect RHDV or have sick or freshly dead rabbits.
If you find a dead rabbit:
- Wear disposable gloves when handling rabbit carcasses.
- Double bag carcasses and spray outside of bag with disinfectant (see below).
- Wash hands with soap and warm water after handling carcasses and removing gloves. Dispose of gloves in trash headed to landfill.