The Michigan departments of Agriculture and Rural Development and Natural Resources advise Michiganders to be aware of rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus type 2 (RHDV2), which is a fatal disease for domestic and wild rabbits and hares.

While it has not yet been found in Michigan, the high mortality rates seen with this disease could have serious impacts on the state’s wild and domestic rabbits and hares. It is vital for those who handle, hunt and/or care for rabbits to be aware of this disease and to take precautions to keep the virus away from these animals.

Even though the disease does not affect people or other species of animals, RHDV2 is highly contagious and fatal to rabbits, and virtually all rabbits that contract the disease will die. RHDV2 is caused by a virus that can survive for a long time in the environment. A rabbit can develop the disease by having contact with an ill rabbit or its excretions or with an item that has touched an ill rabbit or its excretions.

In addition, people can inadvertently spread the virus into new areas by moving infected live rabbits, carcasses or parts from infected animals, as well as on clothing and shoes.

Disease onset is rapid. Often the only sign of RHDV2 is the sudden death of a rabbit. However, other signs can include fever, reduced appetite, lack of coordination, respiratory problems, diarrhea or constipation, and a bloody, foamy discharge from the nose.

This variant of rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus was first found in 2010 in Europe, and the United States saw its first case in Ohio in 2018. The current outbreak of RHDV2 in the U.S. began with detections in New Mexico in March 2020, and while the disease has been found primarily in southwestern states, it has been spreading

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