Rabbit haemorrhagic disease appears to be the cause of widespread death among rabbits in Elliðárdalur valley in Reykjavík. It is the first time the disease is detected in Iceland outside of a rabbit farm or home. The virus that causes the disease is not transmissible to humans or other animals.
After the rabbit deaths were noticed in Elliðárdalur, the Food and Veterinary Authority sent rabbit carcasses from the valley to the Institute for Experimental Pathology at the University of Iceland (Keldur) for study. Preliminary results indicate rabbit haemorrhagic disease to be the cause of the fatalities. The virus was found in Iceland previously in 2002, but at that time infections were limited to rabbit farms and pet rabbits, and response measures succeeded in wiping it out.
Vaccine will be ordered
Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease is a highly infectious and often fatal disease that affects both domestic and wild rabbits. The rabbits that live in Icelandic nature are classified as semi-wild animals. There are three known types of the virus, RHDV1, RHDV1a, and RHDV2. Mortality rates differ greatly between the strains, ranging from as low as 5% to as high as 90%. Samples from Elliðárdalur have been sent abroad to determine which type is spreading among rabbits in the area. Results are expected next week, and once they arrive, the appropriate vaccine will be ordered to the country.
Directions for rabbit owners
The virus spreads through contact between animals. Although humans cannot contract the disease, they can carry the virus in their hair, clothes, and shoes and thus spread it between animals. In order to kill the virus on clothes, they must be washed at a temperature over 50°C (122°F) for longer than one hour. A 10% bleach solution works to disinfect surfaces that may house the virus.
In order to protect their animals, pet rabbit owners are directed to avoid visiting natural areas where rabbits are known to live and take care to ensure their pets avoid contact with other animals and people who could potentially be carriers of the virus.
Municipal workers are conducting daily monitoring of areas where rabbits are known to live. Rabbits that are visibly ill are captured and taken to a veterinarian.