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Deadly rabbit virus nicknamed 'bunny ebola' spreading rapidly across southern US
The Telegraph July 3, 2020, 12:46 PM EDT
A deadly rabbit virus nicknamed "bunny ebola" is spreading across the southwest US, killing thousands of wild and pet rabbits.
Outbreaks of the rare and highly contagious virus have been reported in seven states across America's Sun Belt, including Arizona, California and Texas.
The disease, RHDV2, has been referred to as "bunny ebola" by veterinarians because it replicates the severe bleeding and organ failure the ebola virus causes in humans.
In many cases the virus is only detected after an animal dies and its nose leaks blood.
The US Department of Agriculture confirmed cases of the RHDV2 in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Texas beginning in April.
Officials fear this outbreak will be difficult to contain - Neil Mcintyre
It is the fourth time the deadly virus has been found in the US since the first case of RHDV2 was first detected in China around 35 years ago.
However this outbreak represents the first time the virus is known to have spread beyond pet rabbits to wild rabbits, hares and even pikas in North America, prompting concern over how officials can effectively contain it.
"The fact that this is in multiple counties and rabbitries, that's why this is so concerning," Eric Stewart, from the American Rabbit Breeders Association, told the Veterinary Information Network.
"And then to hear it's burning through the wild rabbit populations, that, of course, furthers our concerns that much more."
The first known US case of the virus was among pet rabbits in Ohio in 2018. A second outbreak appeared in the San Juan Islands in Washington state last summer and in February, it was identified in a dozen rabbits at a veterinary hospital in New York City.
Officials are unsure of the source of this latest outbreak. "We still have no idea where it originated," Ralph Zimmerman, New Mexico's state veterinarian, told the Cut. "It's snowballed and moved like mad."
"We had one guy with 200 rabbits, and he lost them all between a Friday afternoon and Sunday evening," he said. "It just went through and killed everything."
Around 500 animals are thought to have been infected in the state in the last four months, prompting officials to introduce a depopulation policy.
But officials fear the highly contagious nature of the virus will make this outbreak difficult to bring under control.
The virus spreads easily through blood, urine, and faeces and its incubation period can be as little as two days. It has a very high death rate, with officials in the southwest US estimating the virus has proven fatal in around 90 per cent of infected animals.
The small numbers of rabbits that do survive continue to pose a threat as they can continue to spread the virus for at least 42 days, according to the House Rabbit Association.
The virus does not pose a threat to humans but can be transferred to rabbits by hair, shoes and clothing. There is no known cure of the virus and veterinarians in the US have to go through a lengthy process with the USDA to import vaccines from Europe.