Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV)
What is rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus?
Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) is a type of calicivirus that specifically attacks rabbits. The virus survives in the slim number of rabbits that survive, only to pass it along in their feces, urine or respiratory secretions. RHDV has affected rabbits in Europe for decades and since 2020, has maintained a steady disease status in the United States. In 2010, a deadlier variant of the virus, RHDV2, was identified and has been reported throughout Europe, the United States and Western Canada. It is now considered an endemic in the United States, as it has maintained a consistent rate of infection in the wild rabbit population.
What are the clinical signs of rabbit hemorrhagic disease?
Hemorrhaging from one or more body orifices is a common sign of the disease. Other signs are generally non-specific before death. Infected rabbits will usually die within 12-36 hours of exposure. Fatality rates of 70-100% have been reported.
What are the causes of rabbit hemorrhagic disease?
The cause of the disease is exposure to the virus a non-vaccinated rabbit. This exposure does not necessarily have to occur through direct contact. Any rabbit that survives the viral disease may pass the virus in its urine, feces or respiratory secretions for up to two months. In the environment, the virus may remain viable for several months and may be brought inside a pet rabbit's home on dirt, leaves, flowers, or flying insects that have come in contact with an infected rabbit's fur, feces or urine. The incubation period (time from exposure to the appearance of first clinical signs) ranges from three to five days.
How is rabbit hemorrhagic disease diagnosed?
At the present, the only way to confirm the disease is by way of a necropsy (post-mortem examination) and specialized testing for viral RNA (a virus’ genetic material) on submitted liver and/or spleen tissues. Any sign of hemorrhage from the nose, mouth or gastrointestinal (GI) tract needs immediate veterinary attention.
Can rabbit hemorrhagic disease be treated?
There is no treatment other than supportive care with intravenous (IV) fluids and oral nutrition. Strict isolation measures must be followed to prevent exposure to other rabbits in the home, veterinary hospital/clinic, animal shelter, or rescue facility.
Is rabbit hemorrhagic disease preventable?
In October 2021, Medgene Labs received Emergency Use Authorization for their RHDV2 vaccine from the USDA Center for Veterinary Biologics in the United States. This vaccine requires two doses administered three to four weeks apart for full protection against RHDV2. A European vaccine is available in Europe. Both vaccines can only be ordered by a licensed veterinarian.
Current recommendations are to limit exposure of pet or breeder rabbits to feral domestic rabbits or wild hares and jackrabbits. Extreme care must be taken by rabbit owners, veterinary team members, shelter personnel, and handlers if a suspected case of RHDV is being taken care of, treated or housed. Use of protective clothing that can be discarded before handling other rabbits is advised. In areas where outbreaks are known, rabbits should not be allowed outside, even if in an elevated hutch, as flies and biting insects can pass the virus along. Please visit Rabbit.org or AEMV.org to find a rabbit veterinarian near you.
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