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Public Land; Private Land; Wildlife
FRANKFORT, Ky. (Jan. 20, 2022) — Following recent lab confirmation that two pet rabbits from the same location in Jefferson County died from a form of rabbit hemorrhagic disease, the public can help efforts to monitor for the highly contagious rabbit disease by reporting any encounters with sick or dead wild rabbits to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
The Jefferson County case is Kentucky's first documented case of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 (RHDV2) and is the same strain that has infected and killed rabbits in more than a dozen states since 2020.
“While this strain has not been detected in wild rabbits in Kentucky, it is extremely concerning because of the risk of spillover to wild rabbits," said Dr. Christine Casey, wildlife veterinarian for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “Currently, we have not received reports of any unusual die-offs, but we are asking for the public's assistance by reporting any unusual wild rabbit deaths in Jefferson County to improve early detection and limit the spread of the disease. We are in close communication with our state and federal partners about the situation and will continue to closely monitor the health of wild rabbit populations."
Rabbit hemorrhagic disease is not known to affect people or other animals, including dogs and cats, but the RHDV2 strain is especially deadly for rabbits, killing up to 80 percent of infected animals.
Rabbits can spread the disease through direct contact with an infected rabbit, contact with the carcass, fluids or fur of an infected rabbit, or by coming into contact with materials contaminated by an infected rabbit, such as plants, bedding, cages, clothes and shoes. Movement of infected rabbits and contaminated materials poses the greatest risk of spreading RHDV2 to new areas.
Once a rabbit has been infected with the virus, it may die with little warning and in a matter of days. Rabbits rarely show clinical signs of infection, but symptoms can include bleeding from the nose or mouth, lethargy, loss of appetite, difficulty breathing, lack of coordination or convulsions.
If an infected animal survives, it can continue to shed the virus for several days.
“If you see a wild rabbit that appears sick, has blood around its nose or mouth or does not show any obvious signs of death, take note of the location and do not touch the animal," Casey said. “Instead, let us know about it as soon as possible."
To report a sick or deceased wild rabbit, contact Kentucky Fish and Wildlife at 1-800-858-1549 or Info.Center@ky.gov.
Residents of Jefferson County and surrounding counties who take injured wild rabbits to wildlife rehabilitation centers are advised to contact the centers before arriving to discuss precautions the facility may have in place.
Rabbit owners are encouraged to contact their private veterinarian to report sick or dead rabbits.
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