MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A deadly and highly-contagious rabbit disease was detected this month for the first time in Minnesota.
The Minnesota Board of Animal Health says that two rabbits died suddenly in Ramsey County earlier this month. Samples from their bodies sent to the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed they had Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 (RHDV2).
According to officials, RHDV2 is a highly-contagious virus affecting both domestic and wild rabbits. The pathogen poses no threat to humans, nor are other species known to be susceptible.
Dr. Greg Suskovic, who helms the state Board of Animal Health’s Foreign Animal Disease Investigation unit, said the cause of this RHDV2 case is under investigation.
“Rabbit owners should contact their veterinarian if their pet dies unexpectedly or exhibits any of the signs consistent with RHDV2,” he said. “Veterinarians should report suspected cases to the Board.”
Experts say that rabbits infected with the virus may appear lethargic or reluctant to move, and they typically die between a day and a week after contracting the disease. After death, their bodies may have blood coming from the nostrils and mouth.
The virus spreads through direct contact with infected rabbits or through contact with contaminated blood, urine or feces. The virus can live on clothing, footwear, surfaces, as well as inside cages, surviving in feed, water and bedding.
The virus is resilient to extreme temperatures, and can survive up to 15 weeks in dry conditions. Experts recommend using a high pH solution to inactivate RHDV2 when disinfecting surfaces.
Currently, there is no RHDV2 vaccine approved for use in Minnesota, although there are vaccines for the disease in Europe. Officials say a South Dakota company is working on a recombinant technology vaccine, similar to the ones created by Pfizer and Moderna to combat COVID-19.
The Board of Animal Health says it plans to discuss approval of the South Dakota vaccine at its December meeting.