Potential Virus Threat

In 2020, Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 (RHDV2) was found in western North America. Scientists believe this highly infectious virus originated in Europe or Asia. It can sicken and kill rabbits, hares, and pikas. (Other unrelated animals and people are not believed to be susceptible.)

RHDV2 has killed wild jackrabbits and cottontail rabbits and domesticated rabbits and hares in a number of western states. The virus persists for a long time in the environment. It can be spread by insects, food and water, contact with sick or dead animals, and the droppings of predators or scavengers that have eaten infected rabbits. People can spread it accidentally.

Biologists working to restore the New England cottontail are monitoring the health of wild rabbits and the small number of cottontails housed in zoos and used in captive breeding, whose offspring are periodically released into the wild to bolster local populations.

What you can do to help protect New England's native rabbit from RHDV2:

  • Never turn a pet rabbit loose in the wild.
  • If you find multiple dead rabbits in nature, contact your state‚Äôs representative to the New England Cottontail Technical Committee or your state wildlife agency (click here).
  • Hunters and trappers should avoid taking rabbits that appear sick. They should wear disposable gloves when handling game, double-bag carcasses and other remains and put them in the trash, and thoroughly clean knives and other equipment.

This fact sheet has more information.

This information document provides greater detail.

This news article from Tufts University presents an overview.