A New Viral Outbreak Is Killing Rabbits

There’s another deadly virus outbreak in the U.S., but this one is killing thousands of wild rabbits. It started in New Mexico in March and has since spread to Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, California and Mexico. It poses a fatal threat to pets as well as wild animals.

The illness is caused by Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus type 2 and does not affect humans or other animals, only rabbits, hares and perhaps pikas, a rabbit-like animal, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is not a coronavirus.

This is the first outbreak of the virus in wild rabbits in North America, but there have been other, smaller outbreaks among domestic rabbits in Ohio, Washington and New York, and in feral rabbits in Canada — pets that have escaped or been released and continue to breed. The pet and feral animals are descendants of European rabbits, not native to North America.

Ralph Zimmerman, the state veterinarian in New Mexico, where the new outbreak started, said its origin is unknown. But, he added, imported domestic rabbits are one possibility; the disease was first identified in France in 2010 and spread throughout Europe and later Australia, where it swept the continent in about a year and a half. An outbreak at a New York veterinary clinic in March of this year killed 11 pet rabbits.

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