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Update on Rabbit Hemorraghic Disease (RHD)
Update April 3, 2018: It is now confirmed that several deceased feral rabbits found in the Comox Valley died of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease. We are hoping to receive our first batch of vaccines (Filavac) from Europe this week. However, due to a supply shortage veterinary clinics will receive a lesser number of vaccines than actually ordered by them. We expect more vaccines to be available at the end of this month.
Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD), caused by a calicivirus, has been found on Vancouver Island, with the outbreak first having been detected in Nanaimo earlier this year. It now has been confirmed on the Mainland (Delta) as well.
Dead rabbits were also found in the Comox Valley (we received information they were discovered in the fairgrounds area). The deceased rabbits were shipped to the provincial veterinary lab for further testing to find out the cause of their deaths. As of this past weekend, the results are still pending.
The virus associated with RHD only affects feral European and domestic pet rabbits. Other animals/pets and humans are not affected. The calicivirus is a very hardy virus and can survive in the environment for weeks, possibly months. RHD is a very infectious disease and has a high mortality rate. The incubation period (time from infection to the showing of clinical signs) for this particular strain of the virus has been reported to be 3 to 9 days.
The virus causes bleeding and attacks internal organs. Many rabbits die quickly, but can show signs of disease prior to that. It is advised that rabbit owners monitor their pet rabbits daily for signs of lethargy, inappetance, trouble breathing, and lack of coordination. The virus can get transmitted via direct contact with bedding, feed and water, feces and body fluids. It can also spread via contamination of human clothing/footwear and through animals that have had contact with or fed on infected rabbits.
No licensed vaccines are available in North America to protect rabbits from RHD at this time. We are currently looking into ordering a particular vaccine from Europe. It is assumed that this vaccine will likely help to protect our rabbits. Also, the DNA of the virus causing this outbreak is still being sequenced. Until we have those results, we cannot be fully certain that this vaccine will be sufficiently effective.
At this time, we advise the following:
1. Rabbit owners should stay away from areas known to be frequented by feral rabbits.
2. Do not introduce any new rabbits into your home. Do not take your rabbit(s) to any shows or fairs at this time.
3. Always wash your hands and change your outside clothing/footwear prior to handling your rabbit(s).
4. Do not feed wild greens to your rabbit(s) at home.
5. Do not allow your dog(s) and cat(s) that go outside to have access to your rabbit's housing area.
6. Do not let your rabbit(s) roam around outside.
Keeping your rabbit's housing area clean is very important. Effective disinfectants against the calicivirus are the following: bleach (1:10 dilution), potassium peroxymonosulfate (Virkon), accelerated hydrogen peroxide (Prevail, Accel, Peroxigard).
If you find a dead rabbit outside, please do not handle it, but contact your local animal control officer.
If you have any more questions, please contact us at Shamrock Veterinary Clinic. You can also find more information on the disease at www.spca.bc.ca/rhd
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