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Wildlife officials warn residents of rabbit-killing disease

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Sarah Elmquist Squires with the Lander Journal, via the Wyoming News Exchange

LANDER — Wildlife officials are warning of a disease that is killing rabbits in Wyoming, and are seeking the public’s help in identifying dead rabbits to monitor the spread of the disease.

Called Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2), the disease targets all of Wyoming’s lagomorphs, including game and nongame species such as cottontail rabbits, jack rabbits and pygmy rabbits, explained Jessica Jennings-Gaines, Game and Fish wildlife disease specialist.

“Any rabbit could become infected with the disease, it could be a cottontail living in your yard or the one you see while hiking,” she explained. “Please report any dead rabbits you find.”

The virus is highly contagious and deadly, and is spread through direct contact with rabbits or rabbit carcasses or contaminated environments.

People cannot contract the disease, but they can spread it by carrying the virus on their clothing or shoes.

The virus causes internal bleeding, and some of the first signs can be sudden death or bleeding from the nose or mouth.

Wildlife officials advise that those who have domestic rabbits be careful not to let wild rabbits have any contact, or gain entry to the facility or home. Protective clothing and hand washing are advised for visitors into a facility containing rabbits, and if you bring in outside rabbits to your facility, be sure to keep them separated from your existing rabbits.

Those who find a dead rabbit are asked to make a report with their local wildlife biologist or game warden. Note the location of the carcass and call the Game and Fish Wildlife Health Lab at 307-745-5865.

Reports may also be made online at https:// share/6e6f97fb4fed4200a67f68f3cfe1cf0a.

Although RHDV2 cannot be spread to humans, rabbits may spread diseases that can be spread, such as plague, so experts advise people not to handle or move dead wild rabbit carcasses or their feces.

A high concentration of RHDV2 was found in rabbits in Riverton in 2020- 2021, with some cases detected more recently near Lander in 2023.

This story was published on June 19, 2024.

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