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WHIDBEY ISLAND – Testing has confirmed that a rabbit on Whidbey Island died of rabbit hemorrhagic disease earlier this month. This is the first known case of the disease in a wild lagomorph (rabbits, hares, and pikas) in Washington state.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) collected the infected Eastern cottontail rabbit from a landowner with private property near Langley on July 6. Positive test results for the disease were provided by the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Washington State University on July 12 and by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories on July 19.
WDFW biologists and veterinarians will continue to monitor wild rabbits on Whidbey Island as well as any suspicious rabbit deaths statewide and will evaluate potential next steps in coordination with the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), local health departments, and other partners.
WDFW’s District Wildlife Biologist, Kurt Licence, is imploring Washingtonians and visitors to the state to do all they can to slow the spread of this disease through wild lagomorph populations, including not moving rabbits to or from Whidbey Island at this time.
“Since this disease is transmitted through direct contact or contact with rabbit body fluids, it is critical to avoid concentrating and moving rabbits,” said Licence. “This includes feeding and providing water for wild rabbits as well as transporting rabbits and uncleaned materials like clothing that have been potentially contaminated with body fluids.”
As described in Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 220-450-030, it is unlawful to transport or remove wildlife from the wild without specific authorization, a permit, or as otherwise provided by state rules. This is especially important for limiting the spread of disease.
In June, the WSDA state veterinarian’s office confirmed the presence of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus type 2 (RHDV2) in domestic rabbits in Island County. RHDV2 is a highly contagious, fatal disease of rabbits known to exist in Washington since 2019. More information is available in WSDA’s news release.
If you find a dead domestic rabbit, including feral domestic species, please contact the WSDA to determine whether this carcass should be submitted for testing. Dead wild rabbits can be reported to WDFW using the following online form: https://arcg.is/0nmm9C.
Though this disease is not known to infect humans or animals other than domestic rabbits and wild lagomorphs, it is important to always wear disposable gloves when handling a dead animal, dispose of the gloves properly, and wash your hands thoroughly.
More information on WDFW’s work related to wildlife diseases is available at: wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/diseases.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife works to preserve, protect, and perpetuate fish, wildlife and ecosystems while providing sustainable fish and wildlife recreational and commercial opportunities.
Individuals who need to receive this information in an alternative format, language, or who need reasonable accommodations to participate in WDFW-sponsored public meetings or other activities may contact the Civil Rights Coordinator by phone at 360-902-2349, TTY (711), or email (Title6@dfw.wa.gov). For more information, see https://wdfw.wa.gov/accessibility/requests-accommodation.