Two pet rabbits infected with a newly discovered highly contagious virus have died in Ontario, causing concern for veterinarians and pet owners.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said it was the first time that rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHDV-2) had been detected in Ontario. It was previously found in British Columbia and Alberta.
Ontario’s rabbits were from the same home and were otherwise healthy, according to Dr. Jamie McGill Worsley, a veterinarian at Forest in Lambton County.
Rabbits died quickly.
“This was devastating to a pet owner without warning and without understanding at first,” she said, “As we ran the test, we began to suspect even more that this might be [virus] That was the case.”
The samples were sent to the laboratory. Earlier this month, CFIA confirmed it was an RHDV-2.
The agency said the source of the infection was unknown.
“Immediately following this, the CIA imposed a quarantine on the site,” the agency said in a statement. “The investigation is complete and no high-risk contacts that could lead to the spread of disease have been identified as such. CFIA is cooperating with the county and continues to monitor the situation.”
The CFIA website says the virus is present in most cases European countries, Australia, New Zealand, Cuba and some parts of Asia and Africa, and occasional outbreaks occurred in the United States and Canada in 2011, 2016 and 2018.
What is RHDV-2
According to CFIA, the disease is highly contagious in both wild and domestic rabbits. The virus does not affect other species.
McGill Worsley said people can pick up the virus from their shoes — or even on their car tires — through infected rabbit feces.
She said that was one reason why there was such concern.
“It’s very flexible in the environment. It’s very easy to spread in microscopic amounts. And then, of course, the potential outcome of this virus, and the effect it has on rabbits, whether they’re wild rabbits or pets, is very devastating,” said McGill Worsley, who has beefed up disinfection protocols in her clinic due to RHDV-2.
The CFIA said infected rabbits usually develop symptoms within one to five days. Symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, and neurological symptoms such as difficulty walking.
“Death is common soon after illness. Death may also occur suddenly without signs,” CFIA says in a fact sheet on its website.
Hazel Gabe from Ottawa is part of the Facebook group for rabbit owners where news of the virus has raised alarm.
“People are really scared. People are very scared and nervous,” she said.
But for some, there is little relief, she said.
“Now that there have been some cases in Ontario, even though we hate some rabbits dying and maybe someone losing a pet, but that means maybe we can finally get access to a vaccine, because we’ve been asking for it for a while.”
While other countries have vaccines that protect rabbits from the virus, they are not readily available in Canada.
In British Columbia, where the disease broke out, the government waited until there had been a certain number of cases before Provide a structured vaccination program.
McGill Worsley thinks it would be the same in Ontario. But at this point, clinics would have to request a special permit to import the vaccine from Spain or France, she said.
“It’s a small operation. I worked on it partly myself… That way we can start protecting rabbits as soon as we get permission from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to bring those vaccines here.”
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