Mississippi has no new detections of rabbit disease

Published 2:30 pm Thursday, December 7, 2023

BROOKHAVEN — Mississippi has some good news on the animal disease front. No new cases of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease type 2 (RHDV) have been detected in two years in Mississippi. 

Rabbit season is currently open and lasts until February 28. 

Rick Hamrick, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Small Game Biologist, said there has not been any new detections in Mississippi. The last outbreak was in 2021 in Rankin County. 

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RHDV2 is a novel strain of RHD. Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease is a disease caused by a virus in the calicivirus family.Until 2018, this disease was only found in European rabbits before it was detected in Canada. By 2020, the disease had spread in the west to New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Texas and California. He said it is safe to assume RHDV2 could spread to native species of wild eastern cottontail and swamp rabbits.

Hamrick said the disease is a problem in the western United States but he has not seen any new detections in the eastern United States. 

According to the MDWFP website, the disease enters a rabbit’s body through the mouth, nose or eyes. The virus persists in the environment for a very long time and is resistant to deactivation.

The virus spreads through direct contact with infected live or dead rabbits. Humans, pets and livestock are not susceptible to the disease. Humans can spread the disease with rabbit fur on their clothing. It could also spread through rabbit urine or feces in the bedding of domesticated rabbits, Hamrick said. 

RHD has a mortality rate of 20 percent, on average. In localized settings, the mortality rate ranges from 5 to 70 percent. In Rankin County, 21 out of 22 rabbits died within a six- to eight-day period. 

There is a vaccine that was granted emergency authorization, Hamrick told The Daily Leader in Sept. 2022. Hunters are encouraged to remain vigilant of the disease and take measures to ensure biosecurity. 

People can call (601) 359-1170 if they have any questions about RDVH2. As of right now, there is no evidence of the disease in wild rabbit populations in Mississippi. It is important to dispose of any road-killed rabbits or hunter harvested rabbits properly to avoid potential spread of the disease. If you remove the animal from their home range area, it is best to place the remains in a garbage bag so it could be buried in a landfill rather than throwing it out into the woods, he said.

Some of those good sanitation practices and biosecurity include:

  • Do not allow pet or wild rabbits to have contact with your rabbits 
  • Do not allow visitors in rabbitries or let them handle pet rabbits without protective clothing
  • Always wash hands with soap and water
  • Do not introduce new rabbits from unknown or untrusted sources
  • If you bring outside rabbits into your home keep them in quarantine for at least 30 days
  • Sanitize all equipment and cages 
  • Establish a worked relationship with a veterinarian to review biosecurity practices
  • If you live near or visit an area where the disease is confirmed do not touch any dead rabbits
  • If you see multiple dead rabbits contact the MDWFP
  • If you own domesticated rabbits do not release them into the wild

People should contact Rick Hamrick via email at  Rick.Hamrick@wfp.ms.gov or the MDWFP at 601-432-2199  if they find large numbers of dead wild rabbits with no apparent signs of death. Those who have domesticated rabbits should contact the MBAH if they notice several domesticated rabbit deaths by calling 1-888-722-3106.