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New VHD/RCD Outbreak in Utah Confirmed
by Pamela Alley, RVT
Yahoo VHD List Owner and Director of the Rabbit Industry Council (RIC)

August 31, 2001

An outbreak of the deadly rabbit disease VHD/RCD in Utah (Viral Hemorrhagic Disease of Rabbits/Rabbit Calcivirus Disease) has been confirmed by the USDA/APHIS (the United States Department of Agriculture/Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service). According to Ed Curlett of USDA/APHIS, on Wednesday, August 15, 2001, samples of rabbits who were thought to be infected were submitted to USDA/APHIS's Plum Island Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (FADDL). On Friday, August 18, these samples were confirmed as being positive forVHD/RCD, based on hemagglutination tests and electron microscopy.

The apparent origin in Utah County, Utah, from which the samples came, is a herd of 900 rabbits kept in the same barn, which were owned by two people. Breeds of rabbits include Rex and possibly others. The rabbitry was placed under quarantine and the herd depopulated. A second, undisclosed rabbitry in Utah was also placed under quarantine and depopulated. Cleaning and disinfection of both premises is ongoing. Utah State and federal officials are continuing to interview people who had previous contact with any of these rabbits. Dr. Mike Marshall, State Veterinarian of Utah, has been involved the investigation.

According to Dr. Crom of USDA/APHIS Emergency Services, rabbits from the Utah rabbitry were sent to Montana and Illinois before the disease was discovered. Some of the rabbits passed through Idaho. Here is the current status of the rabbits from the Utah rabbitry in those areas:

MONTANA: Three rabbits from the Utah orgin rabbitry were sent to Yellowstone County, Montana. While on their journey, they came in contact with two animals bound for slaughter in California. These two rabbits then came in contact with animals headed to the Montana Fair, in Billings, Montana on August 18, leading to the quarantine of the premises of all rabbit exhibitors who were present at the show. The three rabbits brought from the infected premises in Utah were euthanized and samples taken. Preliminary test results were negative for the three rabbits that were euthanized. The remaining rabbits are under quarantine on this premises and further action is dependent on the results from additional lab tests from these rabbits. As a result of possible exposure at the Montana State Fair, Dr. Gertonson, State Veterinarian of Montana, placed 15 premises under quarantine. These premises will remain under quarantine until final lab results are known.

ILLINOIS: Seventy-two rabbits from the infected Utah premises were sent to a Mercer County rabbitry containing 300 rabbits. Preliminary test results are positive for the rabbits that were received from the infected Utah premises, and the Mercer County rabbitry is in strict quarantine. No animals have moved from the property since their arrival, and plans are being made to depopulate the herd. Discussions are under way to determine the value of the animals. When an agreement has been reached between the owner and State and Federal officials, the remaining animals will be euthanized and disposed of appropriately. Dr. Hull, State Veterinarian of Illinois, is managing that portion of the investigation.

IDAHO: The meat truck carrying two of the rabbits from Yellowstone County, Montana, premises (but not the Utah origin rabbits) was stopped in Twin Falls, Idaho. There the 3600 animals aboard the truck were euthanized and disposed of, and the truck was disinfected thoroughly. Potentially exposed rabbits from the meat truck were also tested; those results were negative. There is no known occurrence of disease in Idaho at this point.

CALIFORNIA: No rabbits involved with the Utah location have reached California, and there are no known incidents in the state.

The source of the disease in the Utah herd has not been determined.

From all of the epidemiological data gathered so far, it seems that the outbreak has been contained to the premises mentioned above. Tracing in all affected states has revealed no other rabbit movements from these premises before quarantines were placed. Information is still being gathered from various concerned rabbit owners and is being considered in light of the known information.

APHIS, Veterinary Services and the State Department's of Agriculture of Utah, Montana, Idaho and Illinois are working together to address the situation. Veterinary Services (VS) will assist the affected States in the depopulation and cleaning and disinfecting of the premises. VS also will investigate reports of suspect VHD/RCD as part of the foreign animal disease surveillance program and will continue to diagnose suspect cases at FADDL.

This is the second recorded outbreak of VHD/RCD in the United States. The first occured last year in a rabbitry in Iowa and was contained by quarantine and the killing of affected rabbits. VHD/RCD, however, is prevalent in many parts of the world, such as Australia. VHD/RCD is highly infectious among rabbits, but does not affect humans and other mammals. VHD/RCD is usually fatal. There is no known cure. For more information on VHD/RCD, see the VHD FAQ on Rabbit Web or visit the VHD Info site.

What You Can Do
Various sources have been quite indignant about the outbreak, charging that rabbits are being constantly moved interstate illegally, without health certificates (also known as CVIs--Certificates of Veterinary Inspection) or entry permits. Please, before moving any rabbits interstate, make sure to call the state veterinarian's office of the state to which you plan to go. The system of health certificates is the only truly reliable way we have at this point in time to track disease occurrence and origin.

Dr. Marshall of Utah, Dr. Lee of Montana, and Dr. Hull of Illinois were all very emphatic that omission of health checks, certificates, and legal movement are a major factor in the spread of any contagious disease. Had health checks and certification been done prior to moving these animals, it is possible that they would not have been allowed to enter another state, based on their health and that of the herd.

Unless there is a strong possibility that you or your animals, or visitors to your place, have been in contact with the area or animals already involved, showing can be done cautiously and with care....that is the consensus from USDA/APHIS.

Please use your head when showing, selling, or buying animals at this time, as well as when visiting other rabbit premises. Carry a spray bottle of potent disinfectant (10% bleach works) and use it on your shoes before getting back in your car. VHD/RCD can be spread by anyone who has had contact with an infected rabbit or by an object touched by an infected rabbit.

If you have information about a possible outbreak of VHD/RCD, please call your state veterinarian immediately. You can also contact USDA, APHIS, Veterinary Services, Emergency Programs staff at 301-734-8073, 800-940-6524, or EMOC@USDA.GOV.

For further information on VHD/RCD and on this latest outbreak of the disease in the United States, check out these links:


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