Highly contagious rabbit disease reaches PA: What to know

Pennsylvania — The first cases of highly contagious rabbit disease have been found in Pennsylvania, and state officials are asking residents to help protect current residents by reporting any dead animals.

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease was first confirmed in the state in August when two captive rabbits at the Fayette County facility tested positive. The Game Commission issued an executive order in October 2021 aimed at barring her from entering the state.

“Rheumatic heart disease poses a significant threat to the Commonwealth cottontail rabbit and snowshoe hare, and as such, the Game Commission is taking this latest finding very seriously,” said Andrew DeSalvo, a veterinarian with the Games Committee, in a statement. “We are working hard to learn more about the occurrence of this RHD and to determine what action, if any, to take and when.”

Officials are urging the public to submit reports of rabbit and hare deaths online or by calling 1-833-PGC-WILD.

Officials said the disease cannot infect humans or other animals, but it is highly contagious among domestic rabbit populations and has been responsible for “mass deaths.” It is considered endemic among residents in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming, and cases have been confirmed in Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin.

The disease was first discovered in France in 2010, and is described as highly contagious. It causes internal bleeding, and the obvious sign among infections is a bloody nose.

What makes the virus more difficult to control is its persistence: the virus can remain contagious on Earth for months.

Controlling or eliminating the disease is inherently difficult as the virus is very resilient and can remain contagious on Earth for several months. Infected rabbits spread the virus through their urine, faeces, or respiratory secretions.

Authorities said the disease was discovered in Pennsylvania in 2018 but has been contained.

Experts say it poses a threat to the balance of the ecosystem because of how it affects certain predatory species. With fewer hares, larger numbers of animals such as wolves and raccoons can easily be pushed to suburbs and urban areas in search of food.

Residents are urged to pay attention and report suspicious sightings. If you find two or more dead rabbits or hares in one location with an unknown cause of death, do not touch the animals, and contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission office.

Pennsylvania is home to multiple species of lagomorph that are important cogs in environmental health, including cottontail rabbits and snow rabbits.

People who have pet rabbits should contact their vet if they are concerned.

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