Herd of Feral Rabbits Suddenly Die in South Carolina From Deadly Virus

by Craig Garrett

Wild rabbits in South Carolina are being killed by a highly contagious virus for the first time in the state. Animal health authorities were notified of a sudden increase in rabbit deaths at a Greenville County homestead, the Clemson News reports. It was discovered that this was the first instance of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus Type-2 (RHDV2) in South Carolina.

Clemson University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Center in Columbia tested the rabbits. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) confirmed the subsequent diagnosis. The remaining rabbits at the site have been quarantined. The owners were instructed to confine them in hutches to avoid further spread and future contact with wild rabbits by the animal health authorities.

Michael Neault, State Veterinarian and director of Clemson University Livestock Poultry Health, explained the virus’s effects. “RHDV2’s mortality rate is 70 percent or higher. Our goal at this point is to do what we can to prevent the virus from spreading into the wild rabbit population and potentially further infecting domesticated rabbits,” Neault said.

The virus killing rabbits is the first of its kind in South Carolina

Sudden death, anorexia, lethargy, conjunctivitis, respiratory signs, and bloodstained noses or mouths are some of the disease’s clinical symptoms. Caliciviruses (RHDV2) are highly contagious Caliciviruses that can infect domestic rabbits, wild or feral rabbits, and hares. Infected rabbits shed the virus in their feces and it is passed through direct contact, bedding, water, food, hay, and other rabbit-care supplies. It may also be spread by insects and contact with people.

RHDV2 does not have any impact on human beings. However, the virus has a high kill rate among rabbits—both wild and domestic. In addition, RHDV2 has become widespread in the Western region of America. At this time, there is no available live test for detecting RHDV2.

Will Dillman, Assistant Chief of Wildlife for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, weighed in. “The introduction of RHDV2 to wild rabbits in South Carolina poses a serious threat to wild populations and has contributed to significant mortality events in the western United States. It is important that we do what we can to prevent contact between infected feral rabbits and wild rabbits,” Dillman explained.

The USDA detailed several recommendations concerning RHDV2. They stress that visitors should not be allowed in rabbitries. Nor should they be permitted to handle pet rabbits without wearing protective gear. Before entering your rabbit area, wash your hands with warm soapy water. Also, remove any protective clothing, and then leave the rabbit region. Enter into a business relationship with a veterinarian to decrease the risk of disease among healthy rabbits by discussing and implementing biosecurity protocols. Owners of rabbits should talk to their veterinarian about vaccination choices.