Everything you should know about Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus outbreak in South Africa

If you have rabbits as pets, make sure to vaccinate them. File Picture: Pexels

If you have rabbits as pets, make sure to vaccinate them. File Picture: Pexels

Published Oct 26, 2023


South Africans are urged to be aware of a rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) outbreak in the country and take action in a bid to prevent further spread.

What is RHDV?

RHDV is a lethal virus that affects both domestic and indigenous species of rabbits and hares.

It is caused by the calicivirus virus, resulting in a high number of deaths. The deaths are caused by bleeding in the organs, including the liver, kidney, and spleen.

The disease was first detected in the Northern Cape in November 2022. It is highly contagious and fatal, and often infected animals may not display visible signs until it’s too late.

In a statement released by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development, the importation of rabbits and hares is not allowed. Therefore, it is uncertain how it entered the country.

What are the symptoms?

According to the NSPCA, common clinical signs include fever, lack of appetite, reduced movement, breathing difficulties, nasal discharge, convulsions or paralysis before death, and red or purple gums.

Does it affect humans?

While it does not affect humans, RHDV kills rabbits and hares at an alarming rate and indirectly affects us, as it can harm our local ecosystem and food sources.

It is also worth noting that the disease cannot kill dogs or cats. However, cats can act as carriers and spread the virus via surfaces.

What can you do if faced with a possible case?

Since carcasses are a source of infection, swift removal is imperative. If testing is requested by the state vet (typically in newly affected areas), place the carcass in double bags and disinfect the outer bag.

Otherwise, dispose of carcasses by burning or burying them at a depth of at least 1.5 metres. If possible, disinfect the immediate vicinity.

Always wear gloves. If gloves aren't used, ensure you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after handling tools like wheelbarrows, gloves, or spades. These tools should be cleaned in a 10% bleach solution or sprayed with F10 mixed at 50 ml per litre.

How to ensure rabbit’s survival

If you have rabbits as pets, make sure to vaccinate your rabbits and take precautions to increase their chances of survival.

Refrain from buying or selling rabbits or hares for a minimum of 28 days to avoid infection from newly acquired animals.

Ensure safe hay for your rabbits by either heat-treating it or covering it mosquito netting, and disinfect all surfaces before offering hay to your bunnies.