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    Rabbit hemorrhagic disease confirmed in wild rabbits in Wayne County

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    After being confirmed in domestic rabbits in Sanpete County in June, Rabbit hemorrhagic disease has now been confirmed in wild rabbit populations in another place in Utah, as well.

    A disease deadly to rabbits is spreading in Utah. Couresy photo

    Rabbit hemorrhagic disease serotype 2 (RHDV-2) was confirmed on July 21 after some dead wild cottontail rabbits were found in the Teasdale area of Wayne County and then sent to a lab for testing. The disease was first detected in Utah on June 22 after the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food confirmed that a private farm with domestic rabbits in Sanpete County had rabbits that tested positive for the disease.
    RHDV-2 was first identified in domestic rabbits in Europe and has now been detected in multiple southwestern states earlier this year, including California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. RHDV-2 is not related to the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. Both domestic and wild rabbits, as well as pikas, are susceptible to the disease, and infection results in very high rates of mortality. The disease is highly contagious and causes rapid death.
    Rabbits can become sick one to five days after exposure and have symptoms of fever, lethargy, a lack of appetite, difficulty breathing and frothy blood coming from their nose just prior to death. The virus causes liver inflammation that prevents blood from clotting and eventually the rabbit dies from internal hemorrhage (bleeding). There is no treatment for RHDV-2.
    While people, dogs and other animals are not susceptible to RHDV-2, they can carry the virus from one location to another on their feet or other contaminated items. The virus can survive for months in the environment, and rabbits can be infected by direct contact to sick rabbits or through contact with the urine or feces of sick rabbits.
    People who see multiple dead wild rabbits in an area are asked to contact the nearest Utah Division of Wildlife Resources office, and wildlife officials will determine whether the animals should be sent in for testing. Always wear disposable gloves when handling a dead animal, and wash hands thoroughly after. Rabbit carcasses that are not fresh enough to be tested should be double bagged and disposed of by deep burial or landfill.
    Those planning to hunt cottontail or snowshoe rabbits in Utah this fall should note that infected wild rabbits might be lethargic and not flee when approached. If the rabbit that’s harvested seemed to act normally at the time of the hunt, it is unlikely that it has the disease. However, if there is any discoloration or hemorrhages on internal organs after harvesting the rabbit, or anything that might appear abnormal or a cause for concern, contact the local DWR office.
    Those suspected of RHDV-2 in a domestic rabbit are asked to contact their veterinarian or the state veterinarian’s office at 801-982-2235. For more information on RHDV-2 in domestic rabbits, visit the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food website.

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