First Hawaiian Rabbit Disease Case Found on Maui Farm; quarantine ordered

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The United States Department of Agriculture and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture have confirmed rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus type 2 (RHDV2) in a 4-5 year old neutered male rabbit on a farm in Kula.

This is the first confirmed detection of the disease in Hawaii, according to a news release. Although fatal to rabbits, RHDV2 cannot be transmitted from animals to humans and has no impact on human health.

HDOA’s Animal Industry Division received a notice on June 14 that nine out of 12 rabbits had died on the Maui farm. A suspension order was immediately issued to prevent the movement of rabbits and cages and associated materials in and out of the farm.

HDOA received confirmation on June 17 of RHDV2 infection in a rabbit tested by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory and a formal quarantine order on the premises was issued by HDOA state veterinarian Dr. Isaac Maeda.

The duration of the quarantine should be 120 days after the completion of the cleaning and disinfection of the premises. The outbreak appears to involve a single premise and is not expected to spread.

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RHDV2 is a highly contagious viral disease and is classified as a foreign animal disease and requires that detections be reported to the USDA and the World Organization for Animal Health.

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The disease was first detected in the United States in 2018 and has since been detected in New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Texas, Utah Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon, Tennessee, New York, Kentucky, Mississippi, Minnesota, South Dakota, Georgia and Florida.

The virus is extremely resistant in the environment and can be spread through direct contact between affected rabbits and indirectly by contaminated inanimate objects. Although RHDV2 does not infect species other than rabbits and hares, humans, dogs, rodents and insects can spread the virus through external contamination.

Unlike other rabbit haemorrhagic disease viruses, RHDV2 affects both domestic and wild rabbits.

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Many times, the only signs of the disease are sudden death and a bloodstained nose caused by internal bleeding. Infected rabbits may also develop fever, hesitate to eat, or show respiratory or nervous signs.

The cause of this outbreak is still under investigation. No rabbits imported into the state were associated with this outbreak.

Since 2020, HDOA has increased surveillance in all rabbits imported to Hawaii from infected states and has called for strengthened import requirements. Rabbits entering the state must receive a veterinary inspection certificate within 72 hours of arrival, are inspected by HDOA livestock inspectors on arrival, and placed in post-entry quarantine for 30 days.

The state veterinarian has approved the distribution and sale of the RHDV2 vaccine in Hawaii. Private vets in Hawaii have also been notified of the outbreak. Rabbit owners should discuss the need to vaccinate their rabbits for RHDV2 with their private veterinarians.

Protect your rabbits by practicing good biosecurity by taking daily measures to keep the virus away from your pets. USDA recommended biosecurity practices include:

• Do not allow other rabbits to contact your rabbits or enter the farm or home.

• Do not allow visitors to enter rabbits and do not allow them to handle domestic rabbits without protective clothing (including overalls, shoe covers, hats and gloves).

• Always wash your hands with warm soapy water before entering the rabbit area, after removing protective clothing and before leaving the rabbit area.

• Do not introduce new rabbits from unknown or unreliable sources.

• Do not add rabbits to your hutch from animal shelters or other types of rescue operations.

• If you bring outdoor rabbits to your facility or home, keep them separate from your existing rabbits for at least 30 days. Use separate equipment for newly acquired or sick rabbits to avoid spreading the disease.

• Sanitizes all equipment and cages moved inside or outside the premises before they are returned to the hutch. It is recommended to disinfect with 10% bleach or 10% sodium hydroxide mixed with water.

• Establish a working relationship with a veterinarian to review biosecurity practices for identifying and closing possible gaps.

Hawaii has no wild rabbit or hare populations. If this disease were to infect wild or loose rabbits, containment and eradication would be very difficult.

From time to time, there are reports of domestic rabbits shedding on Hawaiian properties. Hawaii state law requires the owner and breeders to contain rabbits and hares above the ground. Violations could result in fines, imprisonment, or both.

Any owners or veterinarians experiencing unusual rabbit losses should contact the HDOA Animal Industry Division at (808) 483-7100 or (808) 837-8092.

More information on RHDV2 can be found on the USDA website by clicking here.

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