BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Authorities say a contagious disease that kills rabbits has been detected for the first time in Idaho.
Two dead jackrabbits near the Boise Airport were confirmed to have tested positive for Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease, or RHD, on Thursday night, Boise State Public Radio reported. The disease isn’t known to affect humans, livestock or other species of pets, but it is deadly and easily spread among rabbits.
Idaho state veterinarian Dr. Scott Leibsle said domestic rabbit owners need to take steps to protect their colonies, like elevating them off the ground if possible.
“Minimize any type of interaction with wild rabbits, any opportunity for that to happen, and then, disinfect your boots or your coveralls, wash your hands before you interact with your rabbits before and afterwards,” Leibsle said.
RHD can survive on clothing or carcasses for months and can also be spread by fleas, flies and mosquitoes. Rabbits might not display symptoms before they die from RHD. Sometimes they may have symptoms including a loss of appetite, a bloody nose and dullness.
Leibsle said people shouldn’t handle dead rabbits in the wild, and to call the Idaho Department of Fish and Game if one is found. Domestic rabbits suspected of having RHD should be isolated, and rabbit owners should notify their veterinarian and the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.
If the rabbit survives, Leibsle said it could still spread the disease to others.
“Those animals that do survive certainly could be a risk for continued shedding and transmission of the virus,” he said.
New Mexico was the first state to record a case of this strain of RHD last year in wild rabbits. It’s since been detected in several other Western states.
A vaccine is available, but it’s hard to get in the United States, Leibsle said. It has to be imported from Europe with the approval of federal regulators.
Leibsle said rabbit owners who want to vaccinate their animals should get a group together and try to find a veterinarian who is willing to import the vaccine. He said he’d then work with the veterinarian to get the proper permits to ship the vaccine to Idaho.