VHD, which is short for Viral Hemorrhagic Disease of
Rabbits, is an infectious viral disease that attacks
the internal organs of rabbits, particularly the liver.
Most rabbits infected by VHD typically die within the
following 24 hours, due to massive hemorrhaging of one
or more internal organs.
are the symptoms?
Infected rabbits may have any of the following symptoms: fever, loss of appetite,
congestion, foamy discharge from the nostrils, lethargy, muscle spasms, and
bleeding from one or more orifices. However, in some cases no symptoms are
evident until death.
VHD always fatal?
According to Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), 50 to 100%
of infected rabbits die from the disease, although it does not appear to affect
rabbits younger than 4 weeks.
all rabbits susceptible to VHD?
No. Breeds native to North America such as jackrabbits
and cottontails are not vulnerable to the disease.
The vast majority of wild rabbits in the United States
are not descendants of European rabbits. However, rabbits
descended from European species of rabbit (Oryctolagus
cuniculus), are highly susceptible. Most domesticated
rabbits are descendants of European species.
long after becoming infected do rabbits die?
VHD has an incubation period of up to 48 hours.
causes VHD? VHD is caused by a virus. The virus
is thought to be part of the Calci family of viruses,
although the Journal of Applied Rabbit Research has
found some evidence that the virus may be a parovirus.
Yes, VHD is highly contagious.
is VHD spread?
The VHD virus is spread by contact with any of the
following: infected rabbits, both alive and dead; rabbit
meat, including frozen; rabbit pelts; the excrement
of infected rabbits; and objects that have been in
contact with infected rabbits, such as cages or feeders.
According to APHIS, the virus can also be transmitted
short distances through moisture in the air. Other
possible carriers include insects, rodents, birds,
cats, and dogs. Rabbits that recover from the disease
can shed the virus for a month or longer; rabbits vaccinated
against the disease are thought to be carriers as well.
The virus can also be carried by human skin or clothing.
long will the VHD virus live on a surfaces?
Extremely hardy, the virus can remain active on surfaces for a
time span ranging from three months to over a year-and-a-half,
in temperatures ranging from 60 degrees to subzero. Warmer temperatures
tend to reduce the viability of the virus.
other animals or people catch VHD?
APHIS maintains that the VHD virus cannot be spread
to other animals or to human beings. Whether this is
true, however, has been a matter of debate among scientists
that have studied the disease. Scientists in Australia
and New Zealand have found antibodies to the virus
present in people who handled rabbits infected with
VHD and in 11 species of animals in those countries.
The presence of antibodies is generally a reaction
to infection. However, no instances of illness or death
due to VHD in humans or animals other than European
breeds of rabbits have been reported.
VHD the same thing as RCD?
Yes. VHD is also known as Rabbit Calicivirus Disease
(RCD), named after the calici virus, which is thought
to cause the disease.
VHD be treated?
While vaccines for preventing the disease have been
developed in Europe, the vaccines are not available
in the United States. No treatment for infected rabbits
has been developed.
should I do if I think my rabbit has VHD?
Quarantine the rabbit immediately and any others that the rabbit
has had contact with. It's recommended that you burn any flammable
objects that have come into contact with the rabbit, such as hay.
Other objects, such as water bottles and feeders, can be sterilized
with a 10% solution of bleach. In the United States, call contact
APHIS at (301) 734-8073 for further guidance.
VHD present in the United States?
VHD was identified as the source of death for an Iowa
rabbitry by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service (APHIS) of the United State Department of Agriculture
(USDA). In April 2000, twenty-five rabbits in the Crawford
County rabbitry died of the disease; two remaining
rabbits were euthanized by the state of Iowa. The rabbitry
was quarantined and APHIS considers the outbreak contained.
It is unknown how the virus was transmitted to the
parts of the world is VHD a problem?
VHD has caused the deaths of millions of rabbits in
China, Korea, Europe, Mexico, Cuba, Australia, New
Zealand, and northern Africa.
was VHD first reported?
The first recorded outbreak of VHD occurred in China
in 1984, although some scientists believe that VHD
was active in Germany before that point. Angora rabbits
imported from Germany were the first victims of the
disease. It remains unclear, however, whether the rabbits
were infected before they were brought into China.
VHD quickly spread from rabbitry to rabbitry, causing
the widespread decimation of China's wild and domesticated
rabbit population. Exported rabbit pelts and rabbit
meat from China are thought to have spread the disease
to Europe and Mexico.
VHD be used as a method of controlling rabbits
in the wild?
In 1996, the Australian government declared VHD, which it dubbed
Rabbit Calcivirus Disease (RCD), to be a legal biological control
agent for feral rabbits. It is the only county in the world to
do so, although farmers in New Zealand are thought to have illegally
imported the virus to eradicate the wild rabbit population.
VHD ever been eradicated from a country once the
rabbit population is infected?
Yes. In 1989, the Mexican government began a series of measures
designed to contain and eradicate the disease. These measures included
identification and quarantine of infected rabbitries, prohibition
of the transport and sale of rabbits, and encouragement of voluntary
destruction of rabbits with VHD. As a result, the disease is considered
to be eradicated in Mexico--the last reported outbreak of VHD occurred
there in 1992. The disease, however, still exists in the Western
Hemisphere. VHD has been present in Cuba since 1993 and is thought
to be active in Bolivia as well.
can I get more information? For information
on VHD in the United States, visit the USDA/APHIS Rabbit Calcivirus Disease Web site.