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Public Asked for Help to Prevent Rabbit Disease

North Dakota animal health officials are asking for help in preventing an exotic rabbit disease from entering the state.

Since March, rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus, or RHDV, has been killing wild, domestic and feral rabbits in southwestern U.S. The disease is extremely contagious among rabbits and highly deadly. It does not infect humans or other animals and is unrelated to COVID-19.

There is currently no treatment or licensed vaccine in the U.S. The virus is extremely hardy and can be spread directly between rabbits, by insect bites, or contaminated equipment, feed, meat or fur.

RHDV has not yet been found in North Dakota, according to Dr. Beth Carlson, deputy state veterinarian with the North Dakota Department of Agriculture’s Animal Health Division.

“Our focus right now is to reduce the chance of RHDV entering the state,” she said. “We also want to make sure we detect any potential outbreaks quickly, so they can be contained.”

Rabbit owners are reminded that a health certificate is required for all rabbits imported into the state. Extreme caution should be used if purchasing or transporting rabbits or rabbit products from outside North Dakota. Owners are strongly encouraged to consult with their veterinarian to ensure adequate precautions are taken and any unusual mortalities are investigated.

According to Dr. Charlie Bahnson, wildlife veterinarian with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, there is also concern for wild rabbits since RHDV has been attributed to die-offs in some areas of the Southwest.

“We are fortunate in North Dakota that none of our cottontail or jackrabbit species have the legal status of threatened or endangered, but RHDV could still cause major impacts to the food chain,” he said. “Maybe even more importantly, if RHDV becomes established in our wildlife, it will be extremely difficult to prevent in domestic rabbits.”

Anyone finding three or more dead, adult wild rabbits is asked to contact Game and Fish at 701-328-6300, or email ndgf@nd.gov. Because rabbits can die of other diseases of concern to humans, carcasses should not be handled until guidance is provided.

More information about RHDV can be found at the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website.