Highly infectious and nearly always fatal, “bunny ebola” is spreading fast across the Southwest, killing wild and domestic rabbits alike in at least seven states, wildlife officials say.
Rabbit hemorrhagic disease, or RHDV2, isn’t actually related to the Ebola virus, but has earned the name among some animal experts due to similar deadly symptoms, including severe internal bleeding and eventual organ failure, The Cut reported.
“We still have no idea where it originated,” Ralph Zimmerman, New Mexico state veterinarian, told the Cut. “It’s snowballed and moved like mad.”
Dr. Amanda Jones, a Texas veterinarian, can testify to its speed.
“We had one guy with 200 rabbits, and he lost them all between a Friday afternoon and Sunday evening,” Zimmerman told the media outlet. “It just went through and killed everything.”
“Sudden death” and “bloodstained noses” are often the only signs left in a rabbit ravaged by the disease, according to the USDA.
“Infected rabbits may also develop a fever, be hesitant to eat, or show respiratory or nervous signs,” the department said in a June release.
This is the fourth time the U.S. has seen an RHDV2 outbreak, but it has only infected domestic animals in the past, never wild rabbits and hares, Business Insider reported.
Infected animals have been found all over New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, and in swaths of Nevada, Utah, California, and even along the northern Mexico border, USDA tracking data shows.
It’s as lethal as it is tough — killing 90% of infected hosts, the California Department of Food and Agriculture says. The rabbits lucky enough to pull through become carriers, and can pass it along to other bunnies and hares for up to two months.
It spreads through physical contact, through bodily fluids and excretions, the USDA warns, and can survive under high heat, and in food, water, carcasses, and contaminated materials.
It’s no danger to people, but by attaching itself to clothing, humans can serve as spreaders.
The destructive disease isn’t entirely understood, but experts believe “bunny ebola” originated in China in 1984, where it killed 14 million domesticated rabbits in just 9 months, according to a 2016 Iowa State University study.
“Morbidity and mortality rates are high … [and] on some farms, most or all of the rabbits may die. This disease has also caused dramatic declines in some wild rabbit populations, particularly when it is first introduced,” the study said, adding RHDV2 can have potentially devastating impacts on ecosystems.
That’s a real concern to affected states, including in Texas.
“The loss of this prey species can affect big game populations as well as other populations like rodents due to a shift in what predators will go after,” said John Silovsky, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department deputy director said in a statement.