INDIANAPOLIS – Rabbit owners in Indiana can now purchase a vaccine to prevent infection with rabbit hemorrhagic disease type 2 virus.

The Indiana State Board of Animal Health has cleared the use of a new available vaccine produced by Medgene Labs. The product is the only one approved by the United States Department of Agriculture for wide use in the United States.

RHD virus is very contagious in rabbits and has a high mortality rate. The disease, which was only found in the United States in 2018, has spread to 16 states, both in wild and domesticated species.

There are several strains of the RHD virus, with RHDV type 1 and RHDV type 2 being of greatest concern. RHD has no impact on human health and is not known to affect other animals. The disease was not diagnosed in Indiana.

Obtaining the vaccine

Under the authorization of the BOAH, the vaccination, which protects only against the RHDV2 form of the virus, can be administered by a veterinarian or the owner of the rabbit. To obtain the vaccine, rabbit owners may be more successful by obtaining the product through a veterinarian.

Medgene Labs indicated that due to the size of the vials, distribution will first be to veterinary clinics. However, owners of Hoosier rabbits can purchase from retail distributors and directly from the company if availability permits.

Other vaccine products currently authorized in the European Union require a special permit from the USDA to be imported.

The vaccine is administered subcutaneously in two doses, 21 days apart. Owners must wait 14 days after the second dose for full immunity to develop.

Rabbit owners should work with their veterinarians to determine if this product is a good choice for their animals, as well as to determine the appropriate timing and administration of the vaccine.

About RHD

The most common sign of RHD virus infection is sudden death with bloody nose caused by internal bleeding. Infected rabbits may develop a fever, be reluctant to eat, or show signs of the respiratory or nervous system.

Some rabbits may be asymptomatic carriers capable of shedding the virus for up to two months after infection. Rabbits that survive may show signs of dullness and anorexia. They carry the infection and can shed the virus for at least 42 days.

RHDV is easily transmitted through direct contact or exposure to the saliva of an infected rabbit, secretions from the eyes and nose, urine, stool or blood. People can spread the virus on their clothes and shoes, as well as through contaminated materials such as food, water and carcasses.

The disease poses a particular threat to rabbits that are mixed with others, such as at exhibitions or spending time outdoors where RHD is found in the environment. BOAH recommends that rabbit owners practice good biosecurity to protect their animals.

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