Hunters Can Help Combat Spread of Deadly Virus in Rabbits and Hares: Here’s How to Help

by Josh Lanier

Wildlife officials in several states are asking hunters to help them combat a deadly virus ravaging the rabbits and wild hares in the Southwestern United States.

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus Type 2 was first reported in Arizona earlier this year, but it has spread to Texas, New Mexico, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and now Wyoming, Outdoor Life reported. The virus poses a serious threat to hare populations in those states as it is highly contagious and kills quickly. The House Rabbit Society says the death rate for rabbits that contract it is 90 percent.

“It’s kind of like a brush fire,” Shaun Oldenburger, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s small game program director, told the magazine. “It spreads really quick.”

Officials want hunters to report any rabbits or hares they see or kill that are exhibiting any symptoms of the virus. Symptoms are lethargy; fever; seizures; jaundice; bleeding from nose, mouth, or rectum; and difficulty breathing. Experts aren’t discouraging hare hunting. They’re only asking that hunters be vigilant and stay aware of the virus.

“It can be spread through direct contact or exposure to infected rabbit excretion or blood, so rabbits coming into contact with one another,” Travis Duncan, Colorado Parks & Wildlife public information officer, told Outdoor Life. “It can also survive and spread from carcasses, food, water, and any contaminated materials. People could potentially spread the virus indirectly by carrying it on their clothing and shoes.”

People however should not worry about catching the RHDV2 as it cannot be passed to humans or other animals.

How to Combat RHDV2 to Help Save the Rabbits

Anyone who has rabbits as pets should take precautions. They should keep the animals indoors as much as possible. They should also limit the amount of contact their pet has with anything from the outdoors.

The House Rabbit Society said anyone who handles rabbits should wash their hands often and thoroughly. They should also wash their clothing frequently to prevent passing the virus through their garments.

Rabbit hunters should clean their gear and disinfect it after each use. The Environment Protection Agency has a list of disinfectants that are most effective against RHDV2.

Efforts to stem the growth of the virus have been successful in several states as the number of infections has decreased recently. But officials in Wyoming this week announced the state’s first positive case.

There is a vaccine for the virus but it is not approved for use in the United States or Canada.