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Rabbit hemorrhagic disease confirmed at Kula farm on Maui

A rabbit sits in deep grass. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
Michael Probst/AP
A rabbit sits in deep grass. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

The state has placed a 120-day quarantine on a farm in Kula, Maui after nine of its rabbits appear to have died from a lethal hemorrhagic virus, or RHDV2.

Tests on one of the dead Maui rabbits confirmed this is the first RHDV2 case in Hawaiʻi. Over 20 states have reported cases.

The disease is highly contagious and fatal for rabbits, but cannot be spread to humans.

"In addition to just rabbit-to-rabbit transfer, the virus that gets secreted from infected rabbits gets transmitted to an inanimate object, carrier, brush, anything, feed bowls, etc. And if those feed bowls and other things are taken to the susceptible rabbit with a virus on top of it, they can get it that way," said State Veterinarian Dr. Isaac Maeda.

"In addition, people and animals, if we're inside of an area where infected rabbits are, and we subsequently leave and go into an area where susceptible rabbits are, we could transmit it on our clothes or shoes or what have you," Maeda added.

The outbreak appears to involve a single location and is not expected to spread, the Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture said. The cause of the outbreak remains under investigation.

As for rabbits imported into the state, there is currently no way to test living rabbits for the virus. Rabbits entering the state are required to get a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection within 72 hours of arrival, and are placed on a post-entry quarantine for 30 days, the department said.

"Hawaiʻi does not have wild rabbit or hare populations. Should this disease infect wild or loose rabbits, containment and eradication would be very difficult," the department said in a press release.

Pet owners are urged to be on the lookout for blood-stained noses, fevers or respiratory challenges in their rabbits.

Any unusual deaths should be reported to the department's Animal Industry Division at (808) 483-7100.

This interview aired on The Conversation on June 22, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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