June 2021 - 35

Deadly efficient
Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2 is a
variation of the rabbit hemorrhagic disease
virus. Both are from Europe, and both kill
rabbits with alarming consistency by causing
them to hemorrhage.
They're from the Caliciviridae family,
said Dr. Samantha Allen, Game and Fish's
wildlife veterinarian.
" It's hard to say if one is worse than the
other, " Allen said. " But RHDV2 infects animals
differently, including rabbit and some
hare species. "
RHDV isn't as commonly discussed in
North America. It kills rabbit species native
to Europe, and was exported to Australia to be
used as a control measure against feral rabbits
pillaging the countryside with mixed results.
RHDV2, the disease now wandering
around the U.S., was found in France in 2010,
then in Quebec in 2016. It occurred in Canada
until it was first discovered in the U.S.
in feral and domestic rabbits in July 2019 in
Washington state.
By March 2020, it was killing domestic
rabbits in New York, then in New Mexico,
and from April 2020 until now cases whipped
through domestic animals from California
to Florida and in wild rabbits across the desert
Southwest. On Dec. 16, 2020, Wyoming
identified the first case in Albany County in
an eastern cottontail rabbit. In the months
since, it's been discovered in cottontails and
black-tailed jackrabbits throughout the state,
including in Laramie, Albany, Park, Natrona,
Goshen, Sweetwater, Fremont and Platte counties
at the time of this article's publication.
The disease spreads quickly and kills efficiently,
said Jessica Jennings-Gaines, a Game
and Fish wildlife disease specialist.
Rabbits spread it by nose-to-nose contact,
through feces or on carcasses. It also can spread
in insects or even on our shoes or clothes. The
virus can live in extreme conditions, surviving
for months outside in decaying tissue, Allen
said.
Once infected, it often takes a rabbit no
more than a couple of days to die. Without
going into too much graphic detail, it causes
the rabbit's liver and spleen to bleed.
From the outside, Jennings-Gaines said
" they look like they just laid down and died. "
Often the only sign of the illness - if an
outward sign exists - is a bloody nose from
internal bleeding. Occasionally they will have a
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department's Wildlife Health Laboratory has tested multiple specimens of cottontails in Wyoming for rabbit
hemorrhagic disease virus 2. At the time of this article's publication, more than 60 rabbits in Wyoming have tested positive for the disease
across eight counties. (Photo by Troy Powell)
Rabbits, like these black-tailed jackrabbits, can spread RHDV2 through nose-to-nose contact. Other methods of spreading the
disease include through feces and on carcasses of infected animals. (Photo by Wes Uncapher)
fever, be lethargic and have difficulty breathing.
Unfortunately for Wyoming biologists trying
to track the infection in the wild, keeledover
rabbits in the prairie are often the hardest
to find, Jennings-Gaines said.
If people begin to notice a decrease in rabbit
populations in the area, or they're finding more
rabbit carcasses than normal, they should let
Game and Fish biologists know. Proceed with
caution handling dead rabbits. While RHDV2
is exclusively a lagomorph virus - it can't
infect any other animals - rabbits carry other
diseases that are harmful to humans.
Wyoming Wildlife | 35

June 2021

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