A highly contagious and deadly rabbit disease has been found in California for the first time, the state Fish and Wildlife Department said.
A veterinary laboratory confirmed the presence of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease virus type 2 in a wild black-tailed jackrabbit that was among 10 jackrabbits found dead on a property near Palm Springs early this month, the department said Wednesday.
The department said the disease is lethal to wild and domestic rabbits, but does not affect humans or domestic animals other than rabbits.
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Infected rabbits may exhibit no symptoms before suddenly dying, or they may suffer fever, swelling, internal bleeding and liver failure.
The disease has spread quickly in several other states and experts say it could significantly impact wild rabbit populations.
“Unfortunately, we may also see impacts to species that depend on rabbits for food, as rabbits are a common prey species for many predators,” said Deana Clifford, a CDFW senior wildlife veterinarian.
The department said it would be useful for outdoor recreationists to report sightings of sick or dead rabbits but be careful to not handle carcasses to minimize spread of the virus, which is described as very hardy. Hunters are urged to take precautions as well.