Although there might be signs and symptoms (red box below) that a pet owner might discover prior to the rabbit dying, often sudden death is the first and only sign. Carriers that do not die often shed the disease for virus for months (USDA).
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RHDV2 (Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease V2) is a "highly contagious disease caused by a strain of the RHD virus that is infecting and killing domestic rabbits and wild rabbits." (USDA). Rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD), whether from classical RHDV strains or RHDV-2, often kills rabbits without outward signs of disease. "Many times, the only signs of the disease are sudden death and blood-stained noses caused by internal bleeding," APHIS information states.
RHDV1 was first seen in China in 1984 from rabbits imported from Germany. It has since spread to many other countries with the RHDV2 virus strain finding its way into the U.S.A., first in Ohio 2018, then Washington 2019.
For the first time ever in the United States, in 2020 there were confirmed RHDV2 cases in both wild & domestic rabbits across most of Mexico and the Southwest United States. This foreign virus has never been identified before in these areas including:
Arizona Nevada Wyoming South Dakota
California New Mexico Montana Georgia
Colorado Texas Oregon Minnesota Sept '21
Utah Florida Idaho New York - Dec '21
Kentucky - Dec '21
Tennessee - Jan '22
New Jersey-- May '22
Alberta CAN May '22
Riparian Brush Rabbit, CA May '22
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Outer Range Map
* SCIENCE magazine
Journal of American Vet Med Association (June 2020)
While the rest of the world remains understandably focused on COVID-19, veterinarians, organizations and rabbit owners have been increasingly busy networking, planning and beginning to mobilize to "prevent the preventable."
As an analogy, once the barn door is open and the virus takes hold in the wild population, it will be nearly impossible to close the door again.
From 2020 to fall of 2021 there was no USDA-approved vaccine, so pet owners, breeders, vets and rescue groups were scrambling to improve biosecurity while hoping for federal and state approval that would allow veterinarians to purchase and imported the proven RHDV2 vaccines from France or Spain. State animal health boards slowly began allowing vets to import the vaccine once a case was confirmed in their state. But this delay from confirmation to ordering to shipping to hosting a clinic created long delays.
Starting October 1, 2021 United States vets from across the country are now able to purchase an American-made vaccine from a South Dakota company called Medgene. And they don't need to wait until there is a confirmed RHDV2 case in their state. The Medgene vaccine is still under emergency authorization because it has not been fully USDA approved. (More info see MEDGENE VACCINE)
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