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"Rabbit Ebola" Discovered For The First Time In Idaho

A wild jackrabbit freezes in the open. Idaho officials recently discovered a deadly disease in two dead jackrabbits near the Boise Airport that could spread to domestic rabbits.

A devastating disease sometimes referred to as “rabbit Ebola” has been detected for the first time in Idaho, with state officials warning domestic rabbit owners to take precautions.

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease, or RHD, is an incredibly deadly disease that’s easily spread among rabbits. It isn’t known to affect humans, livestock or other species of pets.

Two dead jackrabbits near the Boise Airport were confirmed to have tested positive for RHD Thursday night by the Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in New York – the first time it’s been detected in the state. They were initially sent for testing on March 8 before being forwarded to FADDL for confirmation.

Idaho state veterinarian Dr. Scott Leibsle said domestic rabbit owners need to take steps to protect their colonies, like elevating them off the ground if they’re small enough.

“Minimize any type of interaction with wild rabbits, any opportunity for that to happen, and then, disinfect your boots or your coveralls, wash your hands before you interact with your rabbits before and afterwards,” Leibsle said.

Often, the only symptom a rabbit might display if they contract the disease is sudden death. Other symptoms include a loss of appetite, a bloody nose and dullness.

RHD can survive on clothing or carcasses for months and can also be spread by fleas, flies and mosquitoes.

Leibsle said to never handle a dead rabbit in the wild and to call Idaho Fish & Game if you find one.

Any domestic rabbit suspected of contracting RHD should be immediately isolated and its owner should notify their vet and the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.

If the rabbit survives, Leibsle said it could still spread the disease to others.

“Those animals that do survive certainly could be a risk for continued shedding and transmission of the virus.”

The Idaho State Department of Agriculture has not mandated these animals be euthanized, nor has it asked for rabbit shows to be cancelled.

A vaccine is available, but it’s not easy to get in the United States. It has to be imported from Europe with the approval of federal regulators.

Leibsle said rabbit owners who do want to vaccinate their animals should get a group together and approach a veterinarian who would be willing to try to import it. He said he’d then work with that vet to get the proper permits in place to get a bulk shipment of vaccine to Idaho.

New Mexico became the first state to record a case of this strain of RHD last year in wild rabbits. It’s since been detected in several other Western states.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!