Since March, 2020 a virus affecting rabbits, Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHDV2), has entered the U.S. and spread from state to state.
As of now, Kansas remains free of this deadly virus. But Texas and Colorado have outbreaks in both domestic and wild breeds. Because of the unprecedented spread of the virus, the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Animal Health recommends that rabbit shows and events be canceled, postponed or held by virtual means at this time.
The American Rabbit Breeders Association is asking all breeders in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and western Texas to voluntarily recognize a herd quarantine until RHDV2 infections are effectively managed. Rabbit owners are asked to enact strict bio-security measures to reduce the spread of this deadly virus.
"This is the first time this virus has spread like this," said Eric Stewart, executive director of The American Rabbit Breeders Association. "The reason this is such a concern is due to the fact that it is in the wild rabbit population."
According to the USDA, cottontails and hares becoming infected is of large concern. The virus is currently reported in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Utah. Stewart said that Kansas officials are on top of this situation. Currently, wild rabbits in Prowers County, Colorado, and Potter and Randall counties in Texas have wild rabbits who have contracted and died of this virus. Powers County borders Hamilton and Stanton counties in Kansas, and Potter and Randall counties are just three counties shy of Morton County in the far southwestern corner of Kansas.
"We’ve ramped up our borders," said Dr. Justin Smith, Kansas Animal Health Commissioner at the Kansas Department of Agriculture.
Smith said Kansas has inspected dead rabbits and found RHDV2 was not the cause of death. Although the virus is spreading, it is currently waning slightly in other states. He thinks this is due to increased vigilance, such as canceling shows, and bio-security.
"This is a fairly hardy virus," Smith said. "This disease is definitely something we want to keep our tabs on."
Although this disease has not been known to spread to other animals, birds of prey can be carriers. The virus cannot be spread to humans.
According to the USDA, often the only sign of the disease is sudden death. Because of internal bleeding, the animal’s nose may become stained with blood. Infected rabbits may also develop a fever, lose their appetite or experience respiratory distress.
It is recommended that all rabbit breeders and owners practice stringent bio-security protocols, including keeping animals contained and away from wild breeds. The ARBA keeps its more than 20,000 members informed of the latest news on the outbreak. The organization has placed restrictions on rabbit travel within infected states.
Stewart said Kansas is a gateway state. The Kansas State Fair will soon begin restricted showings of animals. Rabbits will not be among the animals shown.