An epidemic outbreak of Rabbit Haemmorhagic Disease (RHD, sometimes called RVHD) is sweeping though Gauteng, infecting and killing both domesticated and wild rabbits and hares.
This is the word from the NSPCA and the Gauteng Rabbit Breeders Association (GRBA). The latter is calling for an official Gazetted ban on the movement of rabbits into or out of affected areas.
RHD was first identified south of Johannesburg in September, affecting, essentially the greater Midvaal area from Walkerville to Van der Bijl Park. Now, however, the virus has spread with cases currently under investigation, or confirmed, in Alberton, Mulbarton, Midrand, Benoni, Chartwell, Centurion, Pretoria East and Pretoria North, and Glen Austin.
RHD is caused by a stealth bomber of a virus, that attacks the internal organs of the infected animals, causing death by internal haemmorhaging.
Symptoms can include fever, lack of appetite, reduced movement, breathing difficulties, nasal discharge, red or purple gums, and convulsions or paralysis before death. However, the progress of the disease is so rapid that these can easily be missed.
Death of otherwise healthy-looking animals can, literally, occur overnight. The incubation period, once the animal is infected, is some three to five days.
Any cases of rabbit haemmorhagic disease found should be reported to your local veterinarian and your regional State Vet (see details below for Gauteng).
Postmortem testing can confirm the presence of the disease in two to three days.
RHD is a “new” disease in South Africa, having first been identified late last year in the Northern Cape Karoo.
How did the infection come to Gauteng? Informed speculation is that the virus migrated via the natural movement of wild animals which, through interactions with pets, eg dogs, and humans, transferred to domestic rabbitries.
Vectors for infection
Vectors for infection are numerous. Viral spread can also occur through carrier insects, or by the movement of infected animals by predator birds.
Other common vectors of infection include contact with blood, bodily fluids and faeces, feed, bedding, cages, etc, and even through walking infected material into the rabbitry via shoes, gloves or overalls.
Moreveor, the virus can survive for some three months without contact with a live host. Thus, the potential infection period is very long indeed.
And, should an animal survive infection it will remain infectious for three months thereafter. So should under no circumstances should it be re-introduced into the rabbitry.
Protective guidelines to prevent Rabbit Haemmorhagic Disease
The GRBA has issued brief guidelines of procedures to follow when unknown mortalities among pets rabbits are found, or when encountering carcasses of wild rabbits on one’s land.
- Carcasses should be swiftly disposed of by burning or deep burial.
- After any contact with suspected infection cases, wash hands with soap and warm water, especially if you didn’t use a gloved hand.
- Any equipment such as wheelbarrows or spades that are used should be washed in 10% bleach.
- Avoid keeping the dead in fridges or freezers.
For those with housed rabbits further biosecurity measures include:.
- Install a disinfectant footbath at entry and exit points,
- Do not visit other rabbit colonies,
- Isolate sick animals immediately and attend to them last,
- Practice hand hygiene when moving between groups of rabbits,
- Isolate new additions for at least 28 days,
- Regularly burn or bury bedding and manure,
- Care about the hay you use. Spray with a suitable disinfectant, and avoid buying hay from areas where the infection has been discovered.
The GRBA adds that the virus is very resilient so keeping it out is easier than getting rid of it. (See their Facebook page for more details.)
The State Vet recommends the following disinfectant solutions for dealing with the virus:
- 10% household breach
- F10 veterinary disinfectant
- 2% formalin, or,
- 10% hydrogen peroxide.
Alcohol-based products do not destroy the virus.
Furthermore, the GRBA strongly recommends that people who keep rabbits avoid the areas of identified infection as far as is humanly possible.
Internationally, RHD is well-known, and is partially preventable in domestic populations by vaccination, for which two types exist.
Vaccines are also available locally, but at prohibitive cost (up to R900 a rabbit), meaning that they are not an option for use by commercial breeders.
State Veterinary contacts (Gauteng):
- Pretoria 072 900 0869
- Germiston: 071 543 3028
- Randfontein: 072 084 4339
Main image: Anilakao, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons