Iowa’s wild rabbit populations remain free of deadly virus
State wildlife experts are looking for a new virus affecting native populations of rabbits and hares. Following a first outbreak in New Mexico in March 2020, the virus causing rabbit hemorrhagic disease is considered stable endemic in Arizona, Colorado, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.
Rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV2) serotypes 2 can persist in the environment and spread from rabbit to rabbit, by predators, insects and even by traffic, impacting populations in new areas. Although the virus is not currently in Iowa, it has been confirmed in domestic rabbits in Minnesota and South Dakota, and in the wild rabbit population in eastern Colorado and northern Texas.
The disease has had a significant impact on native populations, as well as wild and domestic rabbits which are also susceptible. Iowa state veterinarian Dr Rachel Ruden said keeping this virus on the Iowa radar is essential to minimize its impact if it were to appear here.
âEastern rabbits are such common visitors to gardens, sometimes we forget that they can also get sick and these reports are important,â said Dr Ruden. âInfected animals die quickly, sometimes with blood or red-tinted foam visible around the nose, but often without any signs of disease. If you find a dead rabbit, and especially a group of dead rabbits, please contact us as early detection is essential to stem a larger outbreak. “
While the eastern Iowa rabbit population is expected to survive an incursion of the disease, there is some concern about the decline in the Iowa hare population, which is concentrated in parts of the country. State and therefore might have trouble rebounding.
The recently emerged strain, RHDV2, was first detected in Europe in 2010. It is not linked to an epizootic hemorrhagic disease that can lead to deer mortality or COVID-19, the current cause of the human pandemic. It poses no risk to humans and is not known to affect other animals. More information about the disease is available online at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/
A vaccine is now available for emergency use through a licensed veterinarian to protect domestic rabbits. Iowans can find out more by going to https://iowaagriculture.gov/