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Deadly virus now confirmed in feral domestic rabbits in La Pine; concern continues to grow for Oregon’s wild rabbit population

Deadly virus now confirmed in feral domestic rabbits in La Pine; concern continues to grow for Oregon’s wild rabbit population.

The USDA Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory has confirmed rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD) in a feral domestic rabbit collected in La Pine, Oregon, on April 9, 2021. While the virus is highly contagious among rabbit populations and can spread through contact with infected rabbits, it poses no human health risk. The virus is only known to infect rabbits and hares.

This confirmation comes a few weeks after the same virus, RHDV2, was found in a feral domestic rabbit found dead in Milwaukie, a suburb of Portland.

RHD is a viral disease that causes sudden death in rabbits. It is resistant to extreme temperatures and can survive in the environment for months under certain conditions. The virus spreads through direct contact between infected and susceptible live rabbits or exposure to contaminated materials (carcasses, pelts, food, water, forage, etc.). Birds, rodents, flies, predators, and scavengers can spread this virus via their feet, fur/feathers, or feces without becoming infected themselves. People can spread the virus indirectly by carrying it on their clothing, hands, and shoes.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) is asking the public to voluntarily stop the transport of rabbits at this time. The releasing of a pet or domestically raised rabbit and allowing them to wander uncaged in neighborhoods or in the wild is unlawful (ORS 498.0520) and could further spread disease to wild rabbits and significantly impact wildlife rabbit and hare populations.  Oregon is unique in the diversity of rabbit and hare species and habitats these populations occupy (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/pikas-rabbits-and-hares). However, 3 species are have particularly vulnerable populations and are identified as Oregon Conservation Strategy Species.

Please report rabbit mortalities to track the virus’s presence and movement. Call 1-800-347-7028 or visit https://oda.direct/RHD to report domestic or wild rabbits suspected to have died from RHDV2.

Following are some tips to avoid spreading the RHD virus:

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 handling your rabbits.
  • Quarantine new rabbits away from existing ones for 30 days.
  • Know the health status of the rabbitry from which you purchase rabbits.
  • Keep dogs, coyotes, insects, birds, rodents, and other animals away from your rabbits, as they may carry disease.
  • Be aware of the state’s rabbit disease status or country of origin of any equipment or supplies 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 RHD or have sick or freshly dead rabbits.

For hunters:

  • 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 hunting in areas in states where RHDV-2 outbreaks have been recently documented. Contact the state wildlife agency where you will be hunting for information on where RHDV-2 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.
  • Wear rubber, nitrile, or disposable latex gloves while handling and cleaning the game. Wash hands thoroughly with warm water and soap or sanitizer after handling the game. Disinfect all knives, equipment, and surfaces that were in contact with the game.
  • Thoroughly cook all game to an internal temperature of 165°F.
  • Do not feed game meat from wildlife that appears sick, are found dead, or test positive for a contagious disease to people or pets, including falconry birds.
  • Avoid transporting live wild rabbits for release into training pens or field trials, mainly if sick or dead rabbits have been observed in the area.

Carcass Handling

If you find a dead rabbit:

  • Wear disposable gloves when handling rabbit carcasses.
  • Double bag carcasses and spray outside of the 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 a landfill.

Andrea Cantu-Schomus, ODA, 503-881-9049, acantuschomus@state.or.us

Michelle Dennehy, ODFW, 503-931-2748, Michelle.N.Dennehy@state.or.us