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A Deadly Rabbit Disease Is Spreading

It's mostly in the western US, but isolated case turns up among domesticated rabbits in NYC
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 14, 2020 10:25 AM CST

(Newser) – The year 2020 has been a rough one not just for humans but for rabbits, with the appearance of a deadly and highly contagious disease in North America. Now it appears that the spread of rabbit hemorrhagic disease is getting worse here. Last week, wildlife officials in Utah announced that the ailment has been found in the northeastern part of the state for the first time. Earlier this year, it was only in southern Utah. The nonprofit rescue group House Rabbit Society now lists outbreaks in Utah, as well as in California, Nevada, Colorado, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and in various parts of Mexico. But in an example of how the disease might gain a foothold elsewhere, an isolated case has been reported among domestic rabbits in New York City, per the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab.

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"We are very concerned that RHDV2 will spread more widely to NY (likely through the movement of domestic rabbits and parts) and infect our wild eastern cottontails and endangered New England cottontail rabbits," the Cornell release notes. The disease spreads quickly in rabbit populations, causing fatal hemorrhaging, though it has never been shown to leap to humans, reports ABC News. It was first identified in China in 1984, though a new strain—the RHDV2 virus now ravaging North America—began spreading in Europe in 2010. How it arrived in the US isn't clear. Wildlife officials in Utah are asking rabbit hunters to take precautions to avoid hastening its spread, including decontaminating their boots and gear. (Read more rabbits stories.)

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