Highly contagious rare virus kills W. Washington rabbit

A pet rabbit in Western Washington died of a highly contagious disease found only once before in the U.S., according to officials.

The 2-year-old, male European dwarf rabbit on Orcas Island was killed by rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2, the state Department of Agriculture said Monday.

The department has not discovered how the rabbit was infected, a spokesman said. It was the only rabbit on the property, he said.

The owner told the department the rabbit went to the San Juan County Fair last year, but has not traveled since then, the spokesman said.

The first symptoms of the disease can take up to nine days after infection to show, according to animal health officials. There is no vaccine.

The agriculture department asked owners to not take rabbits off Orcas Island. The virus infects European rabbits that are popular to exhibit at fairs.

The rabbits shed the virus in feces and urine. It can be spread from rabbit to rabbit, but also picked up and carried by biting insects, birds, rodents and by contaminated clothing and equipment, according to officials.

The disease does not infect humans or other animals, officials said.

A few cases of a related strain — rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 1 — were documented in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010. The strain was first detected among non-native European rabbits in China in 1984 and killed some 9 million rabbits there.

The new variant surfaced in Europe in 2010. Canadian authorities found the disease among European rabbits running wild on Vancouver Island in March 2008.

The previous documented case of the 2 strain in the U.S. was among four pet rabbits in Ohio in September 2018. The source of the infection was not found, according to a USDA report to the World Organization for Animal Health.

The virus is extremely contagious among domesticated and wild rabbits, according to a 2016 report by the Center for Food Security and Public Health and Iowa State University.

The disease is so widespread in Europe that it’s damaged the ecosystem by depriving endangered species of prey, according to the report. In Australia, the virus has been used to control the population of wild, non-native rabbits.