The first known case of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease in California has been confirmed in a black-tailed jackrabbit found dead near Palm Springs earlier this month, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The virus that causes RHD was detected in tissue samples sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Plum Island, New York. Multiple dead jackrabbits were discovered on the Palm Springs property.
The virus, known as RHD virus type 2, is highly contagious and has caused the deaths of wild and domestic rabbits in several Southwestern states since March, including New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Texas.
State wildlife veterinarian Deana Clifford said the virus could significantly impact California wild rabbit populations, especially those already at risk such as the endangered riparian brush rabbit and the pygmy rabbit, and ultimately could affect predator species that rely on rabbits as food.
However, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said the virus is not related to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and does not affect humans or domestic animals other than rabbits.
The agency is asking anyone hiking or camping in wild rabbit habitat to report any sightings of sick or dead rabbits to the state’s Wildlife Investigations Laboratory at (916) 358-2790 or file an online mortality report through the CDFW website. The state is cautioning them to not handle or disturb rabbit carcasses to minimize the spread of the disease.
Hunting for jackrabbits in California is open year-round, and hunters are being advised to wear gloves when field dressing rabbits, to bury the remains onsite, and to thoroughly wash their hands. The hunting season for brush rabbits and cottontails open July 1.
There is no vaccine for the virus and domestic rabbit owners are being encouraged to practice good biosecurity measures to protect their animals, such as not sharing equipment with other owners, keeping their rabbits isolated from wild or feral rabbits, and washing hands before and after working with rabbits.