A Connecticut vet recommends a vaccine for the deadly, highly contagious rabbit virus.  There is only one catch.  - Hartford Courant

A Connecticut vet recommends a vaccine for the deadly, highly contagious rabbit virus. There is only one catch. – Hartford Courant

There is no cure for the deadly rabbit virus that was identified in Connecticut just over a week ago, but there is an effective vaccine to protect pets, veterinarian Peter Sojka of Piper Vet, one of the state’s experts on the virus, said.

“I think it’s important,” Sojka said of the vaccine. “It’s scary and most likely something we’ll see in the future.”

Sojka, among the few approved for a vaccine for rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus type 2 – also known as RHDV2 – Piper Veterinary Hospital in Middletown said Piper Veterinary Hospital in Middletown will begin holding weekly vaccination clinics Wednesday. Clinics on Wednesdays from 4 pm to 6 pm by appointment only. The hospital is located at 730 Randolph Road in Middletown.

Sojka said the vaccine is transported in limited locations in part because its shelf life is short. He said Piper’s vet’s goal is to make the vaccine “as accessible as possible.” However, it is not cheap.

A spokesperson for Piper Veterinary said the initial vaccine, a booster after three weeks, has a state-mandated exact charge of up to $180.

The virus first emerged in North America in 2018 and has been slowly progressing through the United States, making its way to New York, New Jersey and now Connecticut.

The state Department of Agriculture confirmed on September 11 that RHDV2 had been identified in a private home in Hartford County after reporting a report of sudden deaths in 13 of 14 rabbits to the agency. The fourteenth rabbit died on September 8.

“RHDV2 is a highly contagious animal disease that can be fatal to both domestic and wild rabbits, but cannot be transmitted from animals to humans,” the agency said in a statement.

Sojka said wild rabbits are an important part of the food chain and their loss has “huge environmental impacts”.

No one knows where the virus originated from, but in the environment, it lives long on surfaces such as shoes, clothing and hands. Sojka said the virus is resistant to freezing and thawing as well as high temperatures. It lives for hundreds of days and is difficult to keep track of.

The virus infects both domestic and wild rabbits. Clinical signs of illness include sudden death, fever, decreased appetite, respiratory problems, neurological signs, internal bleeding leading to a bloody nose, and anemia.

Sojka said 90 percent of rabbits infected with the virus die within three days.

Sojka said there are ways to help reduce the chances of exposure, but the most effective way to prevent the virus is through a vaccine. He said people should not introduce new rabbits into the home without a 30-day quarantine and should avoid sharing equipment with new or sick rabbits.

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The USDA, which has not yet identified the source of the outbreak, offers the following tips to prevent chances of exposure:

  • Do not allow hares or pet rabbits from other locations to contact your rabbit or enter your facility or home.
  • Do not allow visitors in rabbit facilities or allow them to handle pet rabbits without protective clothing, including coats, shoe covers, hair covers, and gloves.
  • Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before entering the rabbit area, after removing protective clothing and when leaving the rabbit area.
  • Do not offer fresh rabbits from unknown or unreliable sources.
  • Sterilize all equipment and cages carried inside or outside buildings before returning them to rabbit facilities.

Sojka added that domestic rabbits “make great pets” as long as their needs are met as herbivores.

“They have a very attractive personality. They are beloved pets that people have a lot of affection for.”

If anyone sees a dead rabbit outside, they should avoid touching the animals and notify the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection at the address [email protected]. It should include location and contact information and, if possible, a picture of the rabbit.

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