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SC wildlife officials concerned about rabbit disease affecting wild and domestic animals

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Wildlife officials in South Carolina are concerned about the outbreak of a disease that affects domestic and wild rabbits and is nearly always fatal. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Provided

The outbreak of a foreign animal disease fatal to rabbits has state wildlife officials concerned about a potential spread to South Carolina. 

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus-2 was detected last year in southwestern states and has spread to Florida. And while no cases have been reported in the Palmetto State, wildlife officials want residents to stay vigilant.

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources said humans are not susceptible to the disease, but it is highly contagious for rabbits and nearly always fatal.

Both domestic and wild rabbits are at risk. Infected animals could experience loss of appetite, lethargy, high fever, seizures, bleeding, jaundice, difficulty breathing and sudden death. 

Michael Hook, DNR's small game project leader, said RHDV2 can persist in the environment for a long time, which makes disease control efforts challenging once it is in wild populations. 

Humans could be a means for spreading the disease, and Hook said that is the biggest concern. People can move the disease on their clothes or hands.

Hook said moving rabbits — dead or alive — can contribute to the spread. Moving live, sick rabbits is especially a risk. 

"Contact is a good way to spread it among rabbits," he said. "Rabbits are friendly, friendly animals, and they're sort of gregarious, so they can spread it pretty easily."

The disease could wreak havoc in the wild and pose a big problem for domestic rabbit populations, too. Many people in the state own rabbits as pets. And rabbit shows are popular across the nation.

"If your rabbit starts acting tired, or especially starts bleeding from the mouth or anything like that, that should be cause for concern, and they need to call their vet," Hook said. 

People who come across multiple dead rabbits in the wild should contact DNR. Sick or dead rabbits should not be collected or handled. 

To help prevent the spread of RHDV2, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said domestic rabbits should not be released into the wild. Rabbit owners are recommended not to allow other pet or wild rabbits to have contact with theirs or gain entry to the home. 

In addition to Florida, RHDV2 has been detected in states including Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.

Follow Shamira McCray on Twitter @ShamiraTweets.

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