|From The State Vet's Office|
|Rabbit Viral Hemorrhagic Disease Diagnosed in the United States|
by Tony Frazier
Did you know that the rabbit industry in the United States is valued at somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million? That breaks down into $15 million for research and $10 million for meat. There is no good way to know what the hobby and companion rabbit is worth, but it is estimated that billions of dollars are spent on those rabbits annually. The export value of rabbits is about $200,000. The majority of the commercial rabbit industry originates from California, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Ohio.
Although Alabama is not one of the top rabbit producing states, this state does have a viable rabbit industry. While the number does not reflect the exact number of breeders, the state association has over 450 members. That number is up from just three that had started the association a few years ago. This group of producers has about 3,000 rabbits processed monthly. For this reason it is important that rabbit breeders and owners are aware of a foreign animal disease that has recently occurred in rabbits in the United States.
On June 7, 2005, Rabbit Viral Hemorrhagic Disease (RVHD) was confirmed at a private residence in Indiana by the Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory on Plum Island, New York. A Foreign Animal Disease investigation was initiated on June 3, 2005, on a premises that raises rabbits primarily for sale to reptile owners as a food source for snakes.
The investigation revealed that many of the 200 rabbits on the premises have died within the last 10 days. The producer had recently purchased less than a dozen rabbits from Kentucky. An investigation has begun in Kentucky as well as in Indiana. There have been no other outbreaks as of this writing.
RVHD occurs in three forms. The first is a peracute febrile form of the disease of domestic rabbits, usually affecting rabbits greater than 8 weeks of age. These rabbits are usually simply found dead in their cage. The second is the acute form. The acute form of the disease severely affects the liver, intestines, and lymphatics, followed by hemorrhages and congestion in many organs. The rabbits quickly become terminal. The third is the transient form in which the rabbits become sick and recover and may act as passive carriers.
Morbidity is essentially 100% in rabbits older than 10 weeks in a naïve (never exposed to the disease) population. Mortality is usually 60-80%. It may approach 100% in juvenile and as low as 50% in SPF (Specific Pathogen Free) rabbits.
History of RVHD
RVHD was first reported in 1984 in Nanking, People’s Republic of China. By 1986, the disease had swept Europe in domestic and wild rabbit populations. During 1988-1993, there was an outbreak in Mexico and an eradication campaign where 121,000 rabbits were slaughtered. In 1995, RVHD escaped into Australia killing 10 million rabbits in 2 months. In 1997 the virus was released in New Zealand.
United States Outbreaks
RVHD was first seen in the United States in April 2000 in central Iowa. This outbreak was observed in 27 rabbits. During August of 2001, Utah and Illinois destroyed 400 rabbits that displayed signs of the disease. In December of 2001, RVHD was observed in the Queens New York Zoo, probably by contact with imported rabbit meat.
Animals infected with RVHD will display high fever for 1-3 days, lethargy, diarrhea, terminal neurological signs in some cases, sudden death in 2-5 days after exposure, and pulmonary edema and fluid in the nostrils at death.
RVHD symptoms may be similar to Heat Stroke, Bacteremia with DIC, Enterotoxemia, and Acute Pulmonary Pasteurellosis “Snuffles.”
If you suspect a rabbit may have RVHD, please contact your state veterinarian as soon as possible by calling 1-334-240-7243.