Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus
Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus Serotype 2 is a highly contagious viral disease of domestic and wild rabbits. The disease has recently been detected in several southwestern states, causing significant mortality in wild rabbits. While RHDV-2 has not yet been detected in Wisconsin, the disease is of great concern as it is highly contagious and has shown to have an extremely high mortality rate in affected populations. If the virus enters Wisconsin, both cottontails and snowshoe hares will be at risk.
The virus is easily spread by infected rabbits and contaminated objects. It can be spread through harvested rabbit meat, on the fur or through blood, urine or feces from infected rabbits. It can be spread by any material that contacts the virus, including surfaces, shoes and clothing. It can be spread by insects through physical transfer of the virus after landing on contaminated surfaces. The virus can also spread through the feces of predators and scavengers of rabbits.
RHDV-2 is highly stable in the environment. It can be found in dry conditions for up to 15 weeks. It survives freezing. It can stay on surfaces, like clothing, for months.
Rabbits typically die in 1-3 days following infection. Dead rabbits will likely appear to have been in good health. Occasionally blood may be seen around the nose or mouth, but not always.
Preventing the spread of RHDV-2 to Wisconsin
Preventing entry into Wisconsin is the best management practice to protect the state's cottontail and snowshoe hare populations and the other animals who rely on them in the food chain.
Report wild rabbit and hare illnesses and deaths
Report cases of multiple (three or more) wild rabbit and hare deaths to the DNR by contacting your county Wildlife Biologist.
When visiting an area where RHDV-2 has been found [exit DNR], take care to prevent accidental spread of the disease to Wisconsin. Clothing and footwear worn in areas with known RHDV-2 should be washed before coming home to Wisconsin. Wash equipment, including vehicle tires, with soap and water. Then sanitize with a 10% bleach solution.
Dog Trainers and Trialers and Small Game Hunters
Wisconsin hunters may encounter rabbits or hares while afield or when working with their dogs.
Resource: This flyer provides steps you can take to help prevent RHDV-2 from coming to Wisconsin.
Information for pet rabbit owners
Domestic rabbit owners can learn more about RHDV-2 on the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection's website.
RHDV-2 does not affect people or domestic animals other than rabbits and hares. However, multiple dead rabbits can also be a sign of tularemia, a disease contagious to people. Do not handle or consume sick or dead wildlife and do not allow pets to contact their carcasses.