Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease
Q: Is a vaccine available for Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease virus type 2 (RHDV2), which was confirmed in 2020 in wild rabbit populations in California?
A: Yes, although there are no commercially available RHDV2 vaccines in the United States. Under authorization of the state veterinarian at the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), vaccines produced in Europe may be imported into California for use in domestic rabbits by licensed veterinarians. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are using imported vaccines to protect California’s most endangered rabbit, the riparian brush rabbit, against RHDV2. Information on RHDV2 in domestic rabbits can be found on CDFA’s website. To learn more about vaccinating domestic rabbits against RHDV2 contact your veterinarian.
Riparian brush rabbits are found in small patches of remaining riparian forest habitat in the northern portion of the Central Valley and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Because vaccinations require trapping and administering injections to each individual rabbit, it is not feasible to deploy vaccinations for wild rabbit populations except in cases where populations are small and endangered. CDFW has received reports that live rabbits are still observed in areas where we have confirmed the virus is present, giving us hope that some rabbits are surviving infection.
RHDV2 was first observed in wild rabbits in the southwestern U.S. in March 2020 and has rapidly spread to many states. In California, cases of the virus in wild rabbits have been detected in Alameda, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. Cases in domestic rabbits have also been confirmed in Ventura and San Louis Obispo counties. RHDV2 is not related to the novel coronavirus and does not affect humans or domestic animals other than rabbits.
You and others can help by keeping your eyes open and reporting any sick or dead wild rabbits as our wildlife veterinarians monitor the situation. We’re asking anyone who lives, works or recreates in wild rabbit habitat to report sightings of sick or dead rabbits to CDFW’s Wildlife Health Laboratory at (916) 358-2790, or file an online mortality report through CDFW’s website.
CDFW’s RHDV2 webpage includes fact sheets and information about the virus, how to report sightings of dead rabbits, ways to prevent human-caused spread of the disease, and a link to the U.S. Department of Agriculture interactive map showing counties where the disease has been confirmed in domestic, feral and/or wild rabbits.
Q: I’ve been reading articles about the mystery illness affecting birds in the Eastern U.S. We have been seeing birds with the same symptoms around our home in Southern California for months. Crusty eyes, twitchy head movements, disorientation or they do not fly off when approached. Have there been any reported bird deaths in California that could be attributed to the mystery illness?
A: While the cause of the illness affecting birds in the eastern U.S. is still being investigated, CDFW’s Wildlife Health Laboratory is closely monitoring two diseases that are known to cause eye disease in wild birds in California. These include avian mycoplasmosis, a bacterial infection, and avian pox, which is a viral infection. Both are transmitted through contact with an infected bird or contaminated surfaces like bird feeders. Avian pox may also be transmitted through a mosquito bite. Avian mycoplasmosis primarily affects house finches and goldfinches and causes swollen, crusty eyes, labored breathing and generalized weakness. A related infection has also been identified in crows. Avian pox causes wart-like growths on the skin often around the eyes and bill. Both infections spread readily at bird feeders and bird baths. If sick birds are seen at feeders, it is recommended the feeders be removed until the outbreak subsides. Thorough, weekly cleaning of bird feeders and bird baths may help reduce transmission. An even better option would be to plant a bird and pollinator friendly garden. Residents can help CDFW monitor for wildlife illness and deaths by submitting a report using CDFW’s online mortality reporting form. Disposable gloves should be worn, and hands should be thoroughly washed after handling of bird feeders and bird baths and when disposing of dead birds.
Q: I think I saw a threatened or endangered animal! What should I do?
A: Congratulations! Witnessing California’s rare and protected species is a special treat. As you observe wildlife, especially sensitive wildlife, please be sure to maintain an appropriate distance from the animal so as not to disturb its normal behavior and keep noise to a minimum. Do not attempt to capture or lure the animal to you. Not only is this illegal for most protected species, but it can also harm individuals by interrupting normal behaviors and activities, such as breeding or foraging. Observations of protected species may be submitted to the California Natural Diversity Database (CNDDB) which tracks all of California’s sensitive plants and animals. One option is to use the Online Field Survey Form to enter your observation, including details such as location and date of observation, descriptions of habitat and behaviors seen, and to upload any photos you took. First time users will need to set up an account, but this is free of charge. Once you have an account you can continue to input additional observations, access past observations and generate reports of your submissions.
If you have a question you would like to see answered in the California Outdoors Q and A column, email it to CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.