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Conservation > Fish & Wildlife Diseases Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease

For questions/concerns about this disease in humans, please call your doctor or the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services  (DPHHS).

For questions about this disease/parasite in wildlife, please call the FWP Wildlife Health Lab at (406) 577-7882.

CAUSE

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 (RHDV2) is a highly fatal virus that affects wild and domestic lagomorphs (rabbits, hares, pika). 

DISTRIBUTION

As of January 2022, RHDV-2 has been confirmed in wild rabbits in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and Oregon.

RHDV2 has also been confirmed in domestic rabbits in New York, Kentucky, Mississippi, Minnesota, South Dakota, Georgia and Florida (no cases in wild rabbits currently confirmed in these states).

SPECIES AFFECTED

RHDV-2 affects domestic, feral and wild lagomorphs. Susceptible species in Montana the Black-tailed Jackrabbit, Desert Cottontail, Eastern Cottontail, Mountain Cottontail, Pygmy Rabbit, Snowshoe Hare, White-tailed Jackrabbit, and American Pika.  The Black-tailed Jackrabbit and Pygmy Rabbit are species of concern in Montana.

TRANSMISSION

RHDV-2 is highly contagious among lagomorphs and can spread by direct contact with infected rabbits or indirectly through contact with infected carcasses, blood, urine, and feces. The virus can also be spread on contaminated surfaces such as cages, feed, water, bedding, clothing, or shoes. Scavengers, predators, and birds can also move the virus around on the landscape by moving infectious lagomorph carcasses or carcass parts.

RHDV2 is very persistent in the environment and is resistant to extreme temperatures. The virus can survive up to 15 weeks in dry conditions and can survive freezing.

SIGNS

Sudden death is most common with RHDV2. Die-offs in wild rabbits can involve single, a few, or many rabbits. Dead rabbits often look normal; however, some may have bloody discharge coming from the nostrils and/or mouth. Rabbits are not often observed acting sick prior to death but may be lethargic or reluctant to move. The virus kills 70-90% of infected rabbits.

PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERN

RHDV2 only affects Lagomorphs. Humans are not susceptible.

WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP?

In Yellowstone County:  Because Yellowstone County is considered “known positive” for RHDV-2, testing of additional rabbits from that county is no longer required; however, FWP does still have interest in tracking locations and numbers of dead wild and feral rabbits in Yellowstone County and across the state.  To report rabbit mortalities in Yellowstone County, call the FWP wildlife health lab at 406-577-7880 or 406-577-7882.  You can leave a message with the location, number of rabbits, and whether they are wild or feral.

If rabbit carcasses are found in Yellowstone County, you may help limit further transmission to other susceptible lagomorphs by safely and properly disposing of the carcasses. 

Take the following precautions when handling or disposing of carcasses.  Although RHDV2 is not transmissible to humans, some rabbits may carry other diseases that could pose a health risk to humans.

  • Wear disposable gloves
  • Double or triple bag the carcass
  • If possible, spray the outside of the bag with a disinfectant
  • Place bagged carcass and gloves in a dumpster that will ultimately be taken to a landfill.
  • Wash hands after handling a carcass
  • Avoid mowing over carcasses and spreading tissue over a larger area

A bleach-water solution (1/2 cup bleach in 1 gallon of water with a contact time of 5 minutes) is the best disinfectant if you need to decontaminate surfaces.  Use caution as that this solution is corrosive and can damage clothing. 

To report domestic rabbits, contact the Montana Department of Livestock.

Elsewhere in Montana:  Report sick/dead feral or wild rabbits to the FWP Wildlife Health Lab (406-577-7880 or 406-577-7882) or your local FWP office.  FWP staff will mark the location and determine whether the animal should be collected for RHDV-2 testing. If the carcass is not needed for testing, it should be safely and properly disposed of as described above to prevent further transmission to other lagomorphs.  Keep in mind that although RHDV-2 does not infect humans, rabbits can carry other diseases such as tularemia and plague that can pose a risk to human health, so direct contact should be avoided.  Always wear disposable gloves when handling any animal carcass.

What can falconers do to help?

Raptors may be able to move RHDV-2 to new locations after contacting infected rabbit carcasses or parts. Please try to avoid contact between your birds and rabbit carcasses or parts.