Rabbit Haemorrhagic Virus is spreading like Ebola

Dr Karli du Preez, who is the owner of Exotic Vet in Century City and practices as a Veterinarian.

Dr Karli du Preez, who is the owner of Exotic Vet in Century City and practices as a Veterinarian.

Published Oct 30, 2023


Cape Town – Experts have likened the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease to that of the Ebola virus in humans, stating it is killing the little animals like wildfire across the country, as it continues to spread a year after it was detected.

This is according to Dr Karli du Preez, who is the owner of Exotic Vet in Century City and practices as a Veterinarian.

Du Preez told Weekend Argus, the virus was so aggressive it was killing each rabbit in its path.

In the Southern Cape, 15 rabbits have died.

Du Preez explained that Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) is deadly and that it causes internal bleeding and death in rabbits.

“It is a rabbit specific virus. It spreads very quickly and easily and unvaccinated rabbits have very little chance to survive it,” she detailed.

Du Preez added the current outbreak was ongoing and was becoming problematic.

Reggie Ngcobo, The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development announced the outbreak of the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) in the Western and Northern Cape provinces a year ago.

The department reported die-offs of wild rabbits and hares from the Karoo areas in the Western and Northern Cape Provinces.

They said, RHD is a disease caused by a virus (Calicivirus) and this is the first detection of the disease in South Africa.

He said the disease results in a high number of deaths in rabbits and hares and animals die suddenly with bleeding in the organs such as the liver, kidney and spleen and that it was unclear how the disease could have entered the country, since the importation of rabbits and hares is not allowed. Investigations are under way to determine whether illegal importation could be the source.

Weekend Argus has since approached the Department whether they have determined where it originated from.

In January, the Western Cape Department of Agriculture’s state veterinarian said there were approximately 350 reported deaths.

It is unclear what the current number stands at.

“The outbreak is very bad, there are rabbits dying every day and the virus can wipe out a whole colony in a few hours,” she explained.

“Gauteng and the Western Cape are the provinces that have had the most cases.

“It is a horrible death.

“In South Africa there have been hundreds of deaths associated with the Rabbit Haemorrhagic disease virus.

“The virus is spreading like wildfire and killing every rabbit in its wake.

“It can be compared to the Ebola virus in humans, but one that only affects rabbits. “

She said the best treatment was vaccination and advised that all new rabbits be vaccinated and quarantined for one month before any introductions into a rescue centre of flock

“In our clinic we have separate consultation rooms for the vaccinated and unvaccinated rabbits, we then have three wards. 1 isolation ward where any unvaccinated ill rabbits go, one ward for the rabbits who are still within the 7 days post vaccine and thus not protected yet and then a third ward for the vaccinated rabbits,” she stated.

“We also disinfect between each patient and wear bio security protective gowns and gear when handling any rabbit that is unvaccinated.

“I would suggest that all rabbits above 1 month old be vaccinated to try and protect them. There's only a few veterinarians who have the vaccine as it needs to be imported specially so owners must please contact their nearest Rabbit Savvy Vet for the vaccine.”

She added that many did not realise how aggressive the virus was, it was like living organism, thriving on objects and insects

“The virus can spread through insects making summer a very high risk time with the increase in mosquitoes, it can spread on shoes, clothes, hands and many more ways,” she explained.

Rabbit owner, Jessica Leibrandt, said it was important to vaccinate and care for the animals: “As a rabbit owner of two beautiful boys, I understand the anxiety and heartbreak of seeing and hearing about the deaths caused by RHDV in the rabbit community.

“As there is no treatment for RHD the only thing we can do as fur parents is to vaccinate our babies against RHD, enforce bio security and take responsibility to care for our little ones in order to protect them as much as we can."

At the Southern Cape’s Bunny Haven, 15 rabbits have died.

The sanctuary took to Facebook to explain how these animals were dying just moments after one another.

They said in a statement “ RHD, 15 of the Haven's Bunnies in foster care in George passed yesterday within 4 hrs of being well and alive.

“Four hours later, upon checking on them and going to feed them, she found them all passed, some with blood from their noses.

“All 15 in the group passed in just this short time.

“Correct and extreme bio security measures have been taken.

“They were well looking and alive in the morning, though subdued, which was thought to be due to the extreme weather.

“These bunnies fell under the haven, they were all rescued a while back, they were all sterilised already, and under foster as the Haven premises itself is overfull.”

They said they had over 200 rabbits in foster care and that most were vaccinated and that only 10 % were not yet vaccinated.

“We organised a mayday emergency call yesterday afternoon and had the other four bunnies that were in our George Foster mom's care still from the Haven, that had been kept in a separate quarantine area, to be vaccinated.”

“We have begged the state vets to become involved earlier in the week while hundreds of dead rabbits have been reported to us, from all over the country.”

Weekend Argus

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