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RHD 2019 Washington State Animal Exhibitions

July 26, 2019

A case of rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD) was diagnosed in a pet rabbit in San Juan County (Orcas Island) earlier this July. Since then, a second owner of domestic rabbits on Orcas Island reported several deaths; samples from this premise have been shipped to the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Pullman and results are pending.

RHD in the U.S.
In the U.S., RHD is considered a foreign animal disease. Cases in the U.S. are sporadic, rare, and very limited in geographic distribution. There are three major subtypes of the RHD virus: the classical form (RHDV), its variant (RHDVa), and a recent mutation (RHDV2). The latter is the type was identified as the causal agent in the death of the first Orcas Island domestic rabbit. RHDV2 is much less deadly than RHDV. However, it affects all ages of rabbits while RHDV does not seem to affect young rabbits. All RHD viruses are highly contagious.

Signs of RHD
Signs of illness can include rapid death without prior signs of illness. Others may display depression, poor appetite, congested eye tissues, limpness, and lethargy secondary to fever. They may show respiratory and/or nervous system signs as well, such as difficulty breathing, wobbliness, prostration, paddling, and bloody nasal discharge. Animals surviving past this stage may demonstrate signs of liver disease that include persistent lethargy, jaundice, progressive weight loss, and death.

Transmission
The virus is shed in the feces, urine, and nasal and oral discharges of infected rabbits. This means the virus can enter a new host by direct contact with an infected rabbit or indirectly through surfaces or equipment contaminated by the excretions of infected rabbits. The virus can move from one place to another through contaminated hands, feet, feed, water, feeding and watering equipment, bedding, grooming tools, nest boxes, etc. Flies, birds, and rodents are believed to play a significant role in the spread of the RHD virus, passively picking up the virus from feces, infected rabbits, or contaminated surfaces and transferring it to new areas and new hosts. Rabbits allowed to free range are at even more risk: scavengers can eat the carcasses of rabbits that have died from RHD and move the virus to new locations by shedding it in their feces.

Prevention through Biosecurity
RHD risk to domestic rabbits can be reduced by biosecurity practices. Preventing contact with wild rabbits and their habitat is critical; keeping pet or farmed rabbits indoors will reduce risk significantly. Other recommended practices include:
*On a regular basis, clean equipment, cages, feeders, and waterers thoroughly with soap and water and apply an effective disinfectant for the recommended contact time.
*When possible, maintain a closed colony.
*Isolate or cull sick animals promptly.
*Care for healthy animals first, then sick animals.
*Wash hands, launder clothing, and disinfect footwear after handling sick animals.
*Wash hands before and after handling rabbits and between groups of rabbits.
*Clean and disinfect footwear before entering and after leaving rabbit housing areas; have designated farm and non-farm footwear.
*Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease is not a human health concern. Control insects, birds (including poultry), and rodents in the rabbit area.
*Do not allow visitors or insist they wear protective footwear and do not contact your rabbits.
*Quarantine any new or returning rabbits well away from the main colony for at least 30 days.
*No vaccine is currently available for use in the U.S.

RHD and 2019 Animal Exhibitions in Washington State
Exhibitors should realize and appreciate risks are always involved when one chooses to enter animals in an exhibition. Some exhibitors decide to only show animals at terminal shows to prevent bringing disease agents home. Other animal owners are not willing to expose their animals to the risk of disease and stay home. Those who choose to take breeding animals or pets to any gathering of animals must understand the inherent disease exposure risk involved. The common saying of “Don’t take anything to a fair you aren’t willing to lose” is one to consider seriously.

Currently, RHD has only been diagnosed on Orcas Island and not the Washington mainland. It is impossible to predict if the virus will spread beyond this limited location. People need to be vigilant and observant and report any concerns about domestic or wild rabbit deaths to a local or state veterinarian promptly. Having thousands of pairs of eyes in each county is the best way to identify any new disease of concern and speed response.

Should Washington fairs cancel their rabbit shows this year?
That decision should be made locally based on the amount of risk decision makers think RHD poses in their location. Likewise, exhibitors can choose to accept or avoid increased disease risk by leaving their animals home. Justifiably, San Juan County has decided to cancel the rabbit show at its county fair in 2019. So far, the virus has not surfaced elsewhere, so the risk is the same as always for this sporadic, unpredictable, and highly contagious disease. Rabbits are susceptible to several, more common diseases that can be spread at fairs.

Deadly Rabbit Disease Confirmed on Orcas Island

OLYMPIA – The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) has confirmed a case of rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2) in a domestic rabbit on Orcas Island. RHD is a viral disease that causes sudden death in rabbits and can be spread through contact with infected rabbits, their meat or their fur, or materials coming in contact with them.

On July 9, the Washington State Veterinarian's Office received a report of a dead domestic pet rabbit from a veterinarian clinic on Orcas Island. The veterinarian and the owner suspected possible RHD and contacted the State Veterinarian’s Office. The remains of the dead rabbit were sent to state and federal animal disease labs for testing. On July 18, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed the disease.

Prior to this detection, Canadian animal health officials confirmed the disease in feral rabbits in British Columbia in February, 2018. The disease has since been confirmed in 10 locations in and around Vancouver Island. The first case of RHD2 detected in the U.S was last September in Ohio.

There are two main types of the virus, RHDV1 and RHDV2. The strain found in Ohio was similar to the Canadian RHDV2 strain.

RHD poses no risk to human health or other animals, but hares, jackrabbits, and wild eastern cottontails may be susceptible to RHDV2. The rabbit that died on Orcas Island was a pet, 2-year-old, male Norwegian Dwarf rabbit. No other rabbits are on the property.

Rabbit owners who have questions about this disease should contact their veterinarians. If a case is suspected, veterinarians should contact APHIS or email ahealth@agr.wa.gov to contact the State Veterinarian’s Office.

A vaccine for RHDV2 is not currently available in the U.S. Rabbit owners should practice good biosecurity measures to protect their animals from this disease, such as washing your hands before and after working with rabbits and not sharing equipment with other owners.

Avoid contact with wild or feral rabbits. We recommend burying dead rabbits to reduce the risk of disease transmission. Visit WSDA Ag Briefs for more information about RHD.

We recommend that no one move feral or domestic rabbits from Orcas Island.

Biosecurity Tips

At this time we have not confirmed RHD in feral domestic rabbits but WSDA has submitted samples from Orcas Island due to reports of large die offs. There are no cases of RHD on the Washington mainland and we are not recommending cancelling a show or fair unless you are in the local vicinity to the disease. The State Vet recommends that no one moves domestic or feral rabbits on or off Orcas Island. Here are best practice biosecurity tips to prevent RHD:
  • Wash and disinfect hands, clothing, gloves, footwear, cages and equipment between rabbits from different sources
  • Quarantine new rabbits away from existing ones for 30 days
  • Keep pet rabbits inside to avoid exposure to environments potentially contaminated by wild/feral rabbits or by people, vehicles or implements that can spread the disease
  • Immediately contact your veterinarian if you suspect RHD or have sick or freshly dead rabbits
  • If you have animals not freshly dead, bury them and clean and disinfect any associated shovels or other tools used and wash hands, gloves, footwear and clothes
  • If you cannot bury or compost them, double plastic bag them and dispose in a landfill
  • If you own domestic rabbits, do not release them into the wild.
  • If you volunteer or work at animal shelters or wildlife rescue facilities, be aware that this disease has been found in feral rabbits.

Swine Exhibit/Exhibitor Information

Get the latest in information in hosting a swine exhibit at your Fair... We want you to take home lasting memories, but not bring home any diseases!

Check out the information below!

Prevent the Spread of Flu Between Pigs and People

Fair Safety/Health Information

Fair "Wash Your Hands" Posters

As you organize your local or state fair, you need to be aware of ways to help protect visitors.

One way is to educate visitors on how to stay healthy while visiting animal exhibits and the importance of washing their hands afterwards. Handwashing is easy to do and it's one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs.

Please download and post the entire poster series below at your fair.
And, please take a few minutes to complete our survey.
See DOH Animal Venue Operator Requirements webpage for more information.
You can email us any questions you may have at zd@doh.wa.gov.
Thanks for protecting the public’s health!
Washington State Department of Health, Zoonotic Disease Program
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