The discovery of two captive rabbits with rabbit hemorrhagic disease in Fayette County led the Pennsylvania Game Commission to create a special disease management regulatory area similar to those already in areas where deer with chronic wasting disease were found.
Within the DMA, which extends about five miles in all directions from the site in Uniontown where the infected rabbits were found, hunters must prepare any rabbits they harvest for consumption before removing them from the area. Only the meat, with or without the bone, can be removed from the DMA. It is forbidden to remove all other parts of the rabbit.
Additionally, rabbits or hares may not be captured, transported, rehabilitated, or released within the DMA in southwestern Pennsylvania, and feeding hares is prohibited.
RHS virus 2 is a highly pathogenic and contagious virus that infects rabbits, rabbits, and closely related species.
It has caused mass mortality in hares and hares elsewhere but has not been detected before in Pennsylvania.
However, a different strain of RHD killed a couple of pet rabbits in early December 2018 in Jefferson County.
RHDV2 was first identified in domestic rabbits in France in 2010, and has since caused mass mortality in hares and rabbit populations in several countries.
It appeared in the United States in early 2020.
The disease spreads from one animal to another by direct animal-to-animal contact. ingestion of contaminated food or water; inhalation; contact with contaminated equipment, tools and attachments; Viral movement by flies, birds, biting insects, predators, litter, and humans; and contact with urine, feces, and respiratory secretions of infected individuals.
The virus can live on clothing, shoes, plant materials, and other things that humans or other animals could accidentally transfer from an endemic area.
Wild rabbits and rabbits that do not die immediately after infection may show poor appetite, lethargy, and blood oozing from their mouths or noses.
There is no specific treatment for RHD, and it is often fatal, with the local population potentially having a mortality rate of 75 to 100 percent.
The virus is very resilient and may remain on the ground for several months.
Outbreaks of RHDV2 have previously been reported in domestic and wild rabbits throughout the United States, and it is considered endemic in hares and rabbit populations in 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 Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, Wisconsin, and more recently in Pennsylvania.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rheumatic heart disease does not pose a threat to human health. But dead or sick rabbits and rabbits can also be a sign of tularemia or plague, diseases that can cause serious illness in humans. Therefore, it is important that the public not handle or consume wildlife that appears sick or has died of unknown cause. It is also important to prevent pets from coming into contact with or consuming wildlife carcasses.
- The deadly rabbit disease has not yet occurred in Pennsylvania this time
In addition to the recently announced special regulations, the Game Commission’s previous executive order relating to RHD is still in effect. This order prohibits the import into Pennsylvania of any wild lagomorph—a group that includes rabbits, hares, and pikas—or any part thereof or their products from any state, county, territory, or country where RHDV2 has been detected within the past 12 months.
The Pennsylvania rabbit season began Saturday with the opening of the 2022 junior season. Public rabbit hunting opens statewide on October 15.
All Pennsylvania residents are required to assist in RHDV2 surveillance by reporting any mortality event in rabbits or rabbits, which is defined as the finding of two or more dead rabbits or rabbits in the same location and at the same time with an unknown cause of death, by Call 1- 833-PGC-WILD or use the online Wildlife Health Survey reporting tool at https://www.pgcapps.pa.gov/WHS.
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You can also contact Marcus Schneck at [email protected].
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