FAQ About RHDV2 And Rabbits

What is RHDV2?

RHDV2 stands for Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2nd Strain. The original virus, RHDV1, was discovered in France in 2010 and it spread quickly through Europe and the Mediterranean, decimating wild and pet rabbit populations.

RHDV2 is a current strain that began flaring up in the western U.S. and Canada in 2020. It is highly contagious and affects both domestic (pet) rabbits and wild rabbits, including cottontails, jackrabbits, hares and pikas. Currently, RHDV2 has not been found in Illinois, but the virus has killed pet and wild rabbits in 15 states so far.

RHDV2 is almost always fatal, killing three out of four rabbits exposed to it. It is not contagious to people or other animals. But it can be spread thousands of miles through insects, birds, and other animals; people can carry RHDV2 into their homes through contamination on their shoes or clothing. The virus can stay active in the environment for over 90 days and is not killed by many common disinfectants. It can withstand freezing and temperatures over 122F for over an hour.

Is there a cure?

There is no cure once a rabbit is exposed to RVDH2, and the only treatment after exposure is supportive care. But people can protect their rabbits by getting them vaccinated against RHDV2..

What is the vaccine?

In Illinois, the currently available vaccine is manufactured in the U.S. by Medgene Labs, which received emergency use authorization by the USDA Center for Veterinary Biologics on October 4, 2021. The vaccine is an inactivated or killed recombinant subunit protein vaccine that builds immunity to RHDV2-specific antigen proteins in rabbits.

Exotics medicine veterinarians can administer the vaccine. There are two initial doses, given three weeks apart. Full immunity is achieved two weeks after the second dose. One dose does not provide immunity. Tests have shown that immunity is 100-percent effective for rabbits who have received the second vaccine, starting two weeks after the second dose.

Rabbits can be vaccinated starting at four weeks old. It is expected this vaccine will become an annual health preventative.

NOTE: the Medgene vaccine differs from the Filavac vaccine widely used in Europe. No animals were harmed in the development of the Medgene vaccine. The Filavax vaccine is currently not available in Illinois.

What are the symptoms of RHDV2?

Symptoms include difficulty breathing, bleeding--particularly from nose or eyes, fever, lethargy, seizures, and sudden death. Death is most often caused by massive internal bleeding or liver failure. Most rabbits die within hours to days of exposure to RHDV2, but asymptomatic carriers can shed the virus for up to 90 days.

How can I protect my pet rabbit?

Start by making an appointment to get your rabbit vaccinated against RHDV2. Then you need to practice biosecurity -- methods to stop a disease from spreading--at your home.

  • Take off your outdoor shoes when you go home and wear shoes designated for the indoors only.

  • Always wash your hands before interacting with your rabbit.

  • Do not take your pet rabbit outside for playtime.

Where can my rabbit get vaccinated against RHDV2?

Currently, these animal clinics are taking appointments to vaccinate rabbits:

Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital, 3757 Dempster St., Skokie IL 60076

Ness Exotic Wellness Center, 1007 Maple Ave., Lisle IL 60532

What about Red Door rabbits?

All Red Door rabbits are now being vaccinated against RHDV2 before adoption.

What if I see a sick or dead wild rabbit?

Please contact the Illinois Department of Agriculture: 217-782-2172.