Cases of a disease that can cause internal bleeding and sudden death in rabbits have been identified in Pennsylvania.
Two captive rabbits at a facility in Fayette County have tested positive for RHS2, one of the viruses that causes RHS, according to the state Department of Agriculture.
“Rheumatic heart disease poses a significant threat to Commonwealth cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hares in the Commonwealth, and as such the Game Commission is taking this latest finding very seriously,” said Dr. Andrew de Salvo, a veterinarian with the State Game Commission. “We are working hard to learn more about the occurrence of this RHD and to determine what action, if any, to take and when.”
Below, find out more about rabbit bleeding disease:
Q: What is rabbit bleeding disease?
A: Rabbit hemorrhagic disease is highly contagious and often fatal, and causes high fevers in rabbits. Raised outside the United States
Q: Does it affect humans?
no. While the disease is mostly fatal to lagomorph species, including rabbits, hares and pikas, the USDA says it does not affect humans.
However, dead or sick rabbits or rabbits can also be a sign of tularemia or plague, diseases that can cause serious illness in people, officials said. Residents must not handle or consume wild animals that are sick or have died of unknown causes, and they must prevent pets from coming into contact with or eating the carcasses of wildlife.
Q: Is this the first time that cases have been identified in the United States?
The RHD number was first identified in domestic rabbits in France in 2010, and has since caused mass mortality in hares and rabbit populations in several countries, according to state officials. Cases were reported in the United States in early 2020, and the disease is already considered endemic in rabbit populations in some western states.
Q: Are there cases in the region?
no. So far, the cases identified in the state have been in Fayette County.
However, as of last month, it is considered endemic to hare and rabbit populations in many states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. It has also been detected in domestic rabbit populations in those states, as well as in Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Q: How does it spread?
A: The virus can be spread through direct contact or exposure to an infected rabbit’s secretions or blood, according to the USDA. It can also live and spread from dead bodies, food, water, and any contaminated materials.
People can spread the virus indirectly by carrying it on their clothes and shoes.
Q: Are there treatments available?
A: No, there is no specific treatment, and it is 75%-100% fatal, with the potential to result in significant localized fatalities, officials said. Wild rabbits or rabbits that do not die immediately after an injury may have poor appetite, lethargy, and blood oozing from their mouths or noses.
Vaccines are used in Spain, France, and some countries with hepatitis C, according to the USDA. Vaccines are not licensed in the United States, but the agency may authorize them for use in specific situations.
Q: I have a pet rabbit. What do I need to know?
A: Rabbit owners who have questions about this disease should contact their veterinarians, who must in turn report suspected cases immediately to the State Department of Agriculture’s Office of Animal Health at 717-772-2852, option 1, officials said. Veterinarians can call this line at any time.
How does the state plan to deal with this?
The Board of Game Commissioners issued an executive order in March prohibiting the importation of any wild rabbit or hare, or any of their parts or products, including meat, hides, skins, and carcasses, from any state, county, territory, or country where RHDV2 has been detected in rabbit populations or captive. The ban will remain in effect until further notice.
In April, officials voted to adopt a plan to keep cases out of the state, as well as efforts to keep the spread low once it arrived.
Q: Is there anything else residents should know?
A: Residents who keep rabbits can protect their pets by not allowing contact with wild rabbits, washing your hands before and after handling rabbits and sanitizing equipment and cages, among other efforts.
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