KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT/CBS News) -- Humans are not the only species facing a pandemic - rabbits across the U.S. are battling a deadly disease that could wipe out the country's entire rabbit population, according to CBS News.
"Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease virus type 2 (RHDV-2) spreads quickly and is highly lethal, with the latest outbreak originating in New Mexico. According to the wildlife officials, the virus is not a coronavirus, but rather a calicivirus, and does not affect humans or animals other than rabbits, hares and possibly pikas," reported CBS News.
The RHDV-2 virus does not have any connection to COVID-19, despite their similar timing. Rabbits may experience fever, swelling, internal bleeding, lack of appetite and liver failure, or they may suddenly die without exhibiting any symptoms, officials say.
Since March, RHDV-2 has spread through areas such as New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, California and Mexico. It is very contagious and if unchecked, it could wipe out America's dozen-plus species of rabbits and their ecosystems, according to officials from the California Fish and Wildlife Department (CFWD).
With Covid keeping us at home, many ecologists are unaware of potentially the most important non-human epizootic occurring since white-nose. Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2) has spilled over from domestic rabbits to North American native rabbit species. https://t.co/dT5y71W4E6— Matt Gompper (@coatiwhisperer) May 13, 2020
The virus showed up most recently in California for the first time, CFWD reports. Last week, a veterinary laboratory confirmed its presence in the state after examining a wild black-tailed jackrabbit, found dead among 10 others on a property near Palm Springs.
"Unfortunately, we may also see impacts to species that depend on rabbits for food, as rabbits are a common prey species for many predators," Deana Clifford, a CDFW senior wildlife veterinarian, said in a press release.
The department said it is helpful to report signs of sick or noticeably dead rabbits but does caution that handling the carcasses could "exacerbate the spread" of the disease.
Officials said the sturdy virus can remain contagious on meat, fur, clothing and requirement for "a very long time," making it easily transmissible indirectly by humans. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), it can survive in chilled, frozen or decomposing meat for months on end.
"Morbidity and mortality rates of the disease can be over 90 percent, the USDA said, and it poses a serious threat to domestic rabbits as well.
There is a vaccine in Europe, but it has not been approved nationally in the U.S., so owners of domestic rabbits are urged to take extra precautionary measures to protect their animals," reported CBS News.
While data has not been able to show what the virus' effect will be on wider ecosystems, it is certain to pose a threat to endangered and vulnerable populations.
Just like humans, rabbits should be quarantined. That means your pet rabbit should be social distancing just as you all are.
Copyright 2020 WVLT. All rights reserved.