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Deadly Virus Hits LA County Rabbits — May Push Even More Coyotes Into Urban Areas

FILE PHOTO: A desert cottontail rabbit forages near the Morongo Valley. (David McNew/Getty Images)
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While humans are fighting to eradicate COVID-19, another virus stands to ravage the local rabbit population.

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease, also known as RHDV2, was discovered in New York state in February and has rapidly spread. Now it's been found in wild rabbits in Los Angeles County's Antelope Valley and in the San Gabriel Mountains. It is also in Orange and San Bernardino Counties.

A black-tailed jackrabbit photographed in a New Mexico yard. (Photo by Mike Lewinski on Unsplash)

If the rabbit population diminishes, wild animals such as coyotes and raccoons will travel deeper into residential communities in search of prey. And it is a big threat to pet rabbits because it's highly communicable through touch.

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Los Angeles Rabbit Foundation president Michelle Kelly says this mutated version of the virus has a 90% fatality rate.

"It will stay on your clothing, on your shoes, on any surface for up to 105 days. It does not wash off easily with soap and water like COVID does."

Kelly said veterinarians have to import vaccines, leaving some rabbit owners on waiting lists. She says the best way to protect your rabbit is to keep it inside, and away from clothing worn outdoors and pets that go outside.

She said only disinfectants such as accelerated hydrogen peroxide, bleach, and Virkon are effective. And you cannot use those on your skin or on your pet's skin. So, for example, if you have a dog that goes out in the woods and picks it up on their paws, you can't really get that off.

The disease has a sudden and violent onset. According to a statement from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:

"Infected rabbits and jackrabbits may exhibit no symptoms leading up to their sudden death, or may suffer from fever, swelling, internal bleeding and liver necrosis."

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