Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHDV2) Biosecurity for Wildlife Control Operators

I originally wrote this set of procedures for those of us working in Southern Caliifornia counties experiencing a Virulent Newcastle Disease (vND) outbreak.

At this time (July 2020) the vND quarantine has finally been lifted, it’s been a long two years.

I’m posting this edited procedure for Wildlife Control Operators who may be working with, or around rabbits, hares or pika anywhere in the United States, where domestic or wild rabbits, jackrabbits, or any species of hare is suspected, or known to inhabit. I hope it helps in stopping this spread of this rapidly moving, devastating disease.  

Previously thought to affect domestic rabbits only (pets, show, and meat animals) Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus Serotype 2 (RHDV2) is killing rabbits at an alarming rate. It is spreading through households, rabbitries, and through wild populations quickly.  At the time of writing, RHDV2 has been identified in New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado.  Edit: It has now been identified in Southern California.

Please note: RHDV2 is NOT a zoonosis. It is a Calicivirus that affects rabbits and hares.

A single sick domestic rabbit is not a singular issue.  Rabbitres with a single sick or dead animal are being depopulated by state agriculture/veterinary officials. A heathy looking rabbit may be asymptomatic.  After depopulation, any affected property must then remain fallow for a minumum of 90 days, but times may vary due to location and severity of disease spread.  The disease is most-often fatal. 

This information is intended for professionals only, who work anywhere that wild or domestic rabbits may inhabit. It may be in a client’s home, on a ranch, or you may be doing unrelated work in an area where wild rabbits might occur. You may even receive calls regarding dead rabbits in large numbers.  Refer those calls to your state Agriculture office, or your Department of Fish/Wildlife immediately. 
First and foremost:  Ask clients before first arrival if they keep rabbits, or have wild rabbits nearby, so you’re prepared. 
I’ve included a PDF link as well as photo links of the USDA flyer, which explains this disease in more detail. For detailed news stories about RHDV2, a Google search will turn up many articles.  

Direct contact with a rabbit or hare is not necessary to spread this disease. It may be carried on shoes, clothing, hands, equipment, traps, or vehicles in areas where the disease may be present in the environment. It is highly resistant to temperature extremes.

Biosecurity Procedures

1. Try to stagger appointments where either wild or domestic rabbits may be, or are suspected to be present.  (Example: gopher work in an area that may have wild rabbits.)  If you are working with rabbits directly, DO NOT USE WOOD TRAPS!  They are difficult to clean and even harder to disinfect, and can easily harbor and spread this virus.

2. Familiarize yourself with what Hemmorhagic Rabbit Disease is, and how it can be spread. Links are provided below.

3. If entering a property with either wild or domestic rabbits suspected or present, have flyers available to give to your client. Remember that you may be the first person they’ve come into contact with who knows what RHDV2 is. They may have many questions!  YOU may be the person who educates a client to get more information regarding biosecurity for their own animals.  Take the time to answer what questions you can factually. If you don’t know the answer, do not guess. Refer them, if needed to sources where they can find more information. (See flyer below, this is your handout)

4. Stock up on PPE, especially disinfectant, nitrile gloves, disposable boot covers, plastic disposal bags, paper towels, and dispatch equipment.  Use boot covers at ALL properties where wild or domestic rabbits may be suspected or are present. Put them on before exiting your vehicle, after you arrive. Donn tyvek, pull boot covers out from beneath Tyvek suit while standing, and donn gloves. 

5. Consider wearing Tyvek protection if you must be close to rabbits, and have a change of clothing with you. (Make sure you’re staying hydrated, we all know how miserable Tyvek is in warm weather.)

6. Do not enter areas where domestic rabbits are kept. Entering such areas should be on a required basis only.  Never enter an area with reported dead rabbits.  

7. Carry a tank of a fresh and properly diluted disinfectant. Veterinarians are suggesting the following: All products are being recommended with a 10 (ten) minute soak time to kill any virus present.

  • Bleach (1:10 dilution)
  • Potassium peroxymonosulfate (Virkon)
  • Accelerated hydrogen peroxide (Prevail, Accel, Rescue solution)
  • Peroxigard
  • Parvosol, or other parvoviricide approved disinfectant.

7a.  If dealing with wild rabbits directy, humanely euthanize. Spray inside of bag with disinfectant before sealing, and spray the entire surface of the outside of the bag, keeping in mind that the bag must be kept wet for at least 10 minutes.  Securely dispose of on site if permitted, following any laws/rules/regulations for your jurisdiction.

8. When you have completed your tasks, return to your vehicle, and before taking off foot and hand protection, thoroughly spray down/soak ALL equipment used prior to leaving the property.  Do it as many times as is necessary to meet the “10 minute” rule. (I usually do this in the back of my truck). Wet all surfaces of tires, and spray down boot covers with disinfectant. Sit in your vehicle, boots out and remove boot covers turning them inside out as they are removed, and place them in a plastic bag. Then doff Tyvek/gloves in the same manner, and seal the bag. If you need to get out of your vehicle again, you’ll need to start over again, so try to plan everything you’ll be doing in advance. Wipe down any areas you touched while gloved with disinfectant wipes.

9. Follow up with hand sanitizer.

10. Go straight from any property suspected of having wild rabbits, or known domestic rabbits to a car wash. A “drive through” car wash can be quite effective in ridding vehicles of pathogens. 

11. If you’ve torn a boot cover, spray down your boots with either Lysol spray or tank disinfectant.

12. If you will be in areas where wild rabbits are commonly seen, consider a foot bath. The soles of boots must remain wet and in contact with solution to be effective.

All of this takes time, so plan accordingly. Preventing the spread of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease to the next property you visit-can make a huge difference.

We have a responsibility to do our part-so let’s be certain we’re doing all we can to prevent the spread of this disease. Educate yourself, and educate your clients! Keep copies of the USDA flyer (below) available at all times.  

More Information

Please check with your state Department of Agriculture for regular RHDV2 case updates.  

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Fact Sheet: United States Department of Agriculture

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