Rabbit Owners Warned About Deadly Virus

Gregory Vellner

Domestic rabbits in a cage.Unsplash

FAIRLESS HILLS, Pa. -- Cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hare face a “significant threat” from a deadly virus spreading nationwide and recently detected in Pennsylvania, according to the state Game Commission, now warning Bucks County, Pa., rabbit owners to take precautions against the highly pathogenic and contagious disease even though it has not yet been seen locally.

A check of Bucks County pet stores from Morrisville to Newtown Township, in fact, found most retailers unaware of the threat.

Following confirmation of a strain of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHDV2) in domestic rabbits in a household in Uniontown, Fayette County, Pa., the state Game Commission asked the public to “report any hare/rabbit mortality events” -- defined as finding two or more dead hares/rabbits at the same locations with an unknown cause of death.´

“Rabbits were tested after the owner contacted the Agriculture Department when five out of 19 rabbits died suddenly,” said Shannon Powers, press secretary, state Agriculture Department. “Additional rabbits have since died or been euthanized, and the location is quarantined.”

State veterinarian Dr. Andrew Di Salvo said the finding is “very serious.”

“RHD poses a significant threat, and as such, the Game commission is taking this recent detection very seriously,” said Di Salvo. “We are working diligently to learn more about this occurrence of RHD and determine what actions, if any, to take and when.”

It’s the first detection of the disease since a similarly isolated case in Jefferson County in 2018, said Powers. “The strain is known to affect wild rabbits as well as domesticated.”

The disease can kill the animals within six to 24 hours of contact with the virus and the onset of fever, she said. Infected rabbits may have blood visible around the nose and other orifices. RHD poses no human health risk, “but it’s important the public not handle or consume wildlife that appears sick or had died from an unknown cause,” said Powers adding “there is no known cause or treatment for the virus.”

Area pet shops have to date had no inquiries about RHD.

“We have domestic rabbits right here and get them in every week because people love rabbits,” said an employee who didn’t want to be named at Pets Plus in Fairless Hills. “But we haven’t heard anything about that; nothing.”

At Pet Smart in Newtown, a manager said he’s also not heard about the disease or received inquiries from customers. And at Dogs and Cats Rule Newtown Township, the store was not informed about the pet virus. “We don’t sell rabbits, but I have not heard about that,” said an employee.

To prevent the spread, the state Agriculture Department recommends:

n Do not touch any dead wild rabbits;

n Do not release domestic rabbits into the wild. If your rabbit appears sick or dies suddenly, contact a veterinarian;

n Anyone working with rabbits should practice good biosecurity, including hand washing and not sharing equipment, and

n If you see more than one dead wild rabbit, contact the state Game Commission at 717-787-4250.

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As a professional journalist for several years -- reporter, editor, feature writer, columnist -- I handled a range of subjects. Breaking news, investigative series, government action, feature events, and staff feature writer with national entertainment magazine interviewing stars including Tom Selleck, Mel Brooks and Danny DeVito. No matter the topic, certain ingredients are key: truth, facts, objectivity, balance.

Bucks County, PA

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