CHRISTMAS VALLEY, Ore. — A wild black-tailed jackrabbit collected near Christmas Valley, Ore., has tested positive for Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2, or RHDV2, raising concern among state wildlife officials trying to curb the disease’s spread.
While not harmful to humans, RHDV2 is highly contagious and deadly to rabbits and hares. It can spread through contact with other infected animals or contaminated food and water, causing sudden death.
The jackrabbit was one of several found dead in the area of south-central Oregon with signs of the disease, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
ODFW collected the animal on May 20, sending it to the USDA Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory for testing. Results came back positive for the disease last week.
RHDV2 was also confirmed March 14 in eight feral domestic rabbits in the Portland metro area.
ODFW says it will continue to collect and sample rabbits throughout the state to keep the disease from spreading to other wild rabbit populations. The public should also report rabbit mortalities to help the agency track the virus.
Colin Gillin, ODFW state wildlife veterinarian, said hunters should take extra precautions handling rabbits, especially if they have pet or domestic rabbits at home.
“If you have pet rabbits, do not handle dead wild rabbits in the field and then go home and handle your own pet or domestic rabbits as you may spread the disease,” Gillin said. “Wear nitrile gloves when handling, and then shower and wash clothes before getting near any other rabbits.”
Disease symptoms may include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, lack of coordination, excitement or nervousness, difficulty breathing, congested membranes around the eyes or bloody, frothy nasal discharge at death.
There is no licensed vaccine for the disease in the U.S., though there are two vaccines licensed by the European Union, Eravac and Filavac, which may be imported under a special USDA permit in states with confirmed cases.
A veterinarian can request to use the unlicensed vaccines only for individually identified rabbits, and only with permission from the state veterinarian. The USDA says it has limited information about the EU vaccines, and no supporting data for recommended usage.
Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease was also discovered in two wild jackrabbits in Ada County, Idaho, earlier this year. The disease was previously confirmed in a New Mexico rabbit in March 2020, and has since been spreading in other states including Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and Texas.
To report dead rabbits in Oregon, call 1-800-347-7028 or visit www.oda.direct/RHD.