Rabbit Disease Under Investigation In Southern Indiana
INDIANAPOLIS (9 June 2005)— A viral disease deadly to domestic rabbits has been identified on a Vanderburgh County, Indiana farm. While highly infectious to domestic breeds, rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD) is not known to harm humans, other animals or wild rabbit species, including American cottontail and jack rabbits.
Staff members from the Indiana State Board of Animal Health (BOAH) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Veterinary Services are investigating the source of the disease that killed nearly half of the 200 rabbits on the farm. RHD has not been diagnosed previously in Indiana.
Details are still being confirmed in the investigation. While animals from the infected farm are not believed to have been sold into pet shop or exhibition channels, rabbit owners are still advised to watch for signs of RHD in their animals, especially if they were acquired recently from sources such as swap meets and flea markets, particularly from Kentucky.
Often the first sign of RHD is an animal’s sudden death, according to BOAH veterinarian Dr. Sandra K.L. Norman, director for Companion Animals. The key sign to look for is the presence of clear or bloody foamy discharge from the animal’s body openings at the time of death.
“This disease can be difficult to distinguish during the hot summer months, when rabbits are particularly susceptible to heat-related deaths,” explained Dr. Norman. “In those cases, however, the rabbit does not typically show signs of bleeding.”
If an animal exhibits those signs, the owner should take a few protective measures until a diagnosis can be confirmed:
1. contact his/her local veterinarian to report the disease and submit the animal for testing;
2. do not move rabbits from the site, particularly to sales and shows where exposure to other animals is possible;
3. prevent healthy animals from having contact with potentially contaminated organic material and equipment, including cages or vehicles; and
4. do not introduce new rabbits onto the site, risking exposure.
RHD, also commonly known as rabbit calicivirus and viral hemorrhagic disease (VHD), is spread by contact with an infected rabbit, rabbit products and contaminated objects, such as feces, bedding, cages or feed. The virus has a short incubation period of 24 hours to 48 hours. Typically, rabbits will suddenly die within six hours to 24 hours of the onset of fever with few clinical signs, such as foamy nasal discharge. Most infected animals appear depressed in their final hours and may show neurological signs.
Death loss is often very high—up to 90 percent or more of the animals that become ill. Some animals can recover, but may remain contagious for up to 4 weeks. No treatment or vaccine is available.
Rabbit hemorrhagic disease was first identified in China in 1984. The disease has spread to other parts of the globe, including Mexico in the late 1980s; however, the disease is not considered endemic to the United States, where the last known case was in Iowa in 2000.