RHDV2 stands for Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2nd Strain. The original virus, RHDV1, was discovered in France in 2010 and it spread quickly through Europe and the Mediterranean, decimating wild and pet rabbit populations.
RHDV2 is a current strain that began flaring up in the western U.S. and Canada in 2020. It is highly contagious and affects both domestic (pet) rabbits and wild rabbits, including cottontails, jackrabbits, hares and pikas. On July 15, 2023, the USDA APHIS confirmed that there have been three deaths of pet rabbits in Chicago, all at one location. So far, the virus has killed pet and wild rabbits in at least 28.
RHDV2 is almost always fatal, killing three out of four rabbits exposed to it. Rabbits who are exposed to it and survive can shed the virus for up to 48 days. RHDV2 is not contagious to people or other animals. But it can be spread thousands of miles through insects, birds, and other animals; people can carry RHDV2 into their homes through contamination on their shoes or clothing. The virus can stay active in the environment for over 48 days and is not killed by many common disinfectants. It can withstand freezing and temperatures over 122F for over an hour.
There is no cure once a rabbit is exposed to RVDH2, and the only treatment after exposure is supportive care. But people can protect their rabbits by getting them vaccinated against RHDV2.
In Illinois, the currently available vaccine is manufactured in the U.S. by Medgene Labs, which received emergency use authorization by the USDA Center for Veterinary Biologics on October 4, 2021. The vaccine is an inactivated or killed recombinant subunit protein vaccine that builds immunity to RHDV2-specific antigen proteins in rabbits.
Exotics medicine veterinarians can administer the vaccine. There are two initial doses, given three weeks apart. Full immunity is achieved two weeks after the second dose. One dose does not provide immunity. Tests have shown that immunity is 100% effective for rabbits who have received the second vaccine, starting two weeks after the second dose.
Rabbits can be vaccinated starting at four weeks old. The vaccine has now become an annual health preventative for pet rabbits. After the initial two shots, just one booster is recommended annually.
NOTE: the Medgene vaccine differs from the Filavac vaccine widely used in Europe. No animals were harmed in the development of the Medgene vaccine. The Filavax vaccine is currently not available in Illinois.
Symptoms include difficulty breathing, bleeding–particularly from nose or eyes, fever, lethargy, seizures, and sudden death. Death is most often caused by massive internal bleeding or liver failure.
Most rabbits die within hours to days of exposure to RHDV2, but asymptomatic carriers can shed the virus for up to 48 days.
Start by making an appointment to get your rabbit vaccinated against RHDV2. Then you need to practice biosecurity — methods to stop a disease from spreading–at your home.
- Take off your outdoor shoes when you go home and wear shoes designated for the indoors only;
- Always wash your hands before interacting with your rabbit;
- Do not take your pet rabbit outside for playtime;
- Do not let your rabbit socialize with unvaccinated rabbits. Do not take your rabbit to bunny social hours or play times with other rabbits.
Currently, these animal clinics are taking appointments to vaccinate rabbits:
Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital
3757 Dempster St., Skokie IL 60076
Duke Animal Hospital
3941 N Ashland, Chicago 60613
2752 W. Lawrence, Chicago, 60625
Glenwood Village Pet Hospital
Gray Animal Hospital
Ness Exotic Wellness Center
1007 Maple Ave., Lisle IL 60532
Midwest Bird & Exotic Animal Hospital
Vernon Hills Animal Hospital
Animal House Veterinary Hospital
VCA Worth Animal Hospital
Bellwood Animal Hospital
Arbor View Animal Hospital
Other veterinary clinics may have the vaccine. Updated info can be found at rabbitors.info
All Red Door rabbits are vaccinated against RHDV2 before adoption. Boarding rabbits at Harebnb must be vaccinated. Red Door has biosecurity protocol for visitors to the shelter.