Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease in British Columbia, Canada

USDA-APHIS GovDelivery Header
Having trouble viewing this email? View it as a Web page.
Bookmark and Share

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is currently monitoring an outbreak of rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2) in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Canadian animal health officials first confirmed the disease in February 2018 in feral rabbits (domestic rabbits that escaped or were abandoned) on Vancouver Island. The disease has since been confirmed in 10 locations in and around Vancouver.

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD) is a viral disease that causes sudden death in rabbits. It can be spread through contact with infected rabbits, their meat or their fur, as well as by materials having contact with those items. It can also be spread by insects, birds, and scavenging mammals. This disease does not affect people or other animals. Rabbits at risk in the United States include feral and possibly native North American wild rabbits, especially in Washington State and in shelters or wildlife rescue facilities receiving feral rabbits.

There are two main types of RHD virus. Available vaccines protect against one type of the virus or the other, not both. Canada is currently importing effective vaccine for the RHD virus detected in British Columbia but vaccines for this virus are not licensed for use in the United States. The RHD virus currently reported in Canada is known as RHDV2 and has not been detected in the United States before.

RHDV2 has a wide host range, and APHIS has determined that experimental infection by RHDV2 can be lethal in eastern cottontail rabbits. It should be noted that the current RHDV2 outbreak in British Columbia is different from the previously reported RHDV2 in Ontario in 2016.  

APHIS is monitoring the Canadian cases, which occurred less than 20 miles from the border of Washington State. At this time, no cases of RHDV2 have been found in U.S. domestic or wild rabbits.

What You Can Do

The goal is to prevent this disease from impacting our domestic and wild rabbit populations. To minimize the risk, here are some actions you can take to help:

  • If you live near or visit the area where this disease has been confirmed, do not touch any dead wild rabbits you may see. If you see multiple dead wild rabbits, report it to wildlife officials.
  • If you own domestic rabbits, do not release them into the wild. If your rabbits appear ill or die suddenly, contact your veterinarian.
  • If you volunteer at animal shelters or wildlife rescue facilities, be aware that this disease has been found in feral rabbits across the border. If rabbits appear ill or die suddenly, contact the facility’s veterinarian.
  • Anyone working with rabbits should practice good biosecurity. This includes basic steps like washing your hands before and after working with rabbits and not sharing equipment with other owners.

Rabbit owners who have questions about this disease should contact their veterinarians.

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease is a reportable disease. Veterinarians should contact APHIS and/or the state veterinarian immediately if a case is suspected.

Technical Discussion

For more information and a technical discussion of the risks of RHDV2, please read our RHDV2 Emerging Disease Notice.