TPWD warning of deadly rabbit virus spreading in West Texas

Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 9:41 PM CDT
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ODESSA, Texas (KOSA) - The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is concerned about the spread of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 across Texas, a disease that started in West Texas.

“We are luckily only seeing a few dead rabbits at a time. This disease has the capacity to cause hundreds of deaths in a small area because of how aggressively it can pass from rabbit to rabbit,” said Wildlife Veterinarian Sara Wyckoff.

Wyckoff says the deadly virus used to be common amongst domestic rabbits. Recently the virus has started to affect wild rabbits including cottontails and jackrabbits.

Raising concern for not only pet rabbits but the fur and meat industry as it could infect an entire farm.

“That in itself has been kind of unprecedented and we have been trying to monitor it for the last few years and see how a virus that’s possibly this deadly will affect our populations of cottontails and jackrabbits,” said Wyckoff.

Wyckoff says when Texas first had this outbreak in 2020 it stayed west and did not affect many, however this current outbreak is now moving east and north to the Hill Country and Panhandle.

The disease can pass through rabbits in a number of ways.

“It can pass through respiratory secretions, body excretions, even if an insect goes on one rabbit collecting blood and goes onto another rabbit it can spread the disease like that so there’s a lot of potential for transmission,” said Wyckoff.

While the jackrabbit and cottontail populations are pretty stable, the greatest concern is for endangered rabbit species.

“If you see a dead rabbit, even if it’s just one, tell us so we can collect it and investigate it and continue to monitor this disease,” said Wyckoff.

Now there’s no need to fully panic just yet, the disease can’t pass to other animals, but if you have a domestic rabbit be aware.