New Detections of Deadly Virus Found in Oregon Wild Rabbits

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More detections of RHDV2 have been found in a wild rabbit in Oregon. Hunters are asked to keep an eye out for the disease and take steps to avoid spreading it. (ODFW photo)

More detections of rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2) in a wild rabbit have been confirmed by the Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory including in a black-tailed jackrabbit recovered from Powell Butte in Crook County on Dec. 13, 2021.

Winter is the most popular time of the year to hunt rabbits and hunters are asked to keep an eye out for the disease and take steps to avoid spreading it. Domestic rabbit owners should also take precautions. (More info on what to do below.)

RHDV2 is a virus that causes sudden death in rabbits. The virus only infects rabbits and poses no human health risk. But it poses a high risk for domestic, feral and wild rabbits.

Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) are working together to monitor the disease and to try and limit its spread since it was first detected in Oregon in feral domestic rabbits near Portland in mid-March 2021.

The first known mortality from RHDV2 in a wild rabbit occurred in a black-tailed jackrabbit found dead near Rome, Ore., in Malheur County in April 2021. (This case was only confirmed in December 2021.) The second was confirmed in a wild black-tailed jack rabbit collected in May 2021 near Christmas Valley in Lake County.

This latest detection in Crook County is about 70 miles from the Christmas Valley case and less than 50 miles from a detection by ODA in feral domestic and domestic rabbits in La Pine, Ore.

The virus can withstand high and low temperatures and persists for long periods in decaying carcasses on the landscape. Transmission is often through direct contact but can also be spread through excretions, via contaminated water or food, and through contaminated objects or clothing.

Signs of the disease in rabbits may include respiratory or neurologic symptoms as well as bloody nasal discharge and sudden death. Often, a deceased animal with a bloody nose is seen without other obvious external signs of injury. (Rabbits that have clear evidence of trauma, such as being caught by cat or hit by car, are not usually tested for the virus.)

While this virus can be deadly and contagious to rabbits and hares, in two of the three wild rabbit cases in Oregon, just a single dead rabbit was identified instead of multiple dead rabbits. Dead rabbits may be rapidly scavenged by other animals and the camouflaged coloration of wild rabbit fur makes them difficult to see in the field, so it’s very possible more wild rabbits have died from the virus.

To report suspicious wild rabbit mortalities, call the Wildlife Health reporting hotline at 1-866-968-2600 or e-mail wildlife.health@odfw.oregon.gov.

For sick or dead domestic or feral rabbit reports please contact ODA at call 1-800-347-7028 or visit the ODA website.

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