Amid the devastation that the coronavirus has had on the world population, another deadly and highly contagious infection has begun to spread, but it does not affect humans.
The infection is spreading across thousands of wild rabbits in the US, and it began in March within New Mexico and has extended its reach to several other states.
The coronavirus of rabbits
The cause of the devastation is the Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus type 2 and is deadly to rabbits and rabbit-like animals, but does not affect humans nor other animals as revealed by the US Department of Agriculture.
The outbreak marks the first of its magnitude to hit wild rabbits in North America with other smaller. Still, nevertheless, deadly infections that ran rampant among domestic rabbits in some states in the US and among feral rabbits in Canada which, supposedly, were previously owned and released but continued to breed, reported the New York Times.
The virus has similarities to the coronavirus, however, even though it does not affect humans. Mainly, experts believe that they both originated from one species to another, where the COVID-19 came from bats to humans, and the rabbit disease came from domestic to wild species.
CNN reported that the disease most likely came ten years ago from European rabbits which is what most domestic rabbits in the US are, said Matt Gompper, a disease ecologist and head of the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Ecology.
A new strain of the virus was then discovered in early March among wild rabbits found in southern New Mexico which, a few days later, caused the death of several rabbits near El Paso, Texas. Observations of the pandemic were also seen around Arizona and Colorado and in May, California.
Experts are unsure of the reason that the type 2 virus was able to reach American states, but Gompper suggests that international trade of rabbit meat and domestic rabbits might have caused it.
Precautions to take against the outbreak
The state veterinarian in New Mexico, Ralph Zimmerman, said that very little could be done about the population of wild rabbits in the wild. Plenty of rabbits die from the disease, but some develop immunity to the infection and begin repopulating the species. The number that dies off will determine the effect that the virus has on predators that primarily prey on rabbits.
The disease is both highly infectious and deadly, and according to the federal National Wildlife Health Center, it is capable of enduring several harsh conditions including dry weather and can live through freezing temperatures. The infection can be spread by rabbits and anything that comes into contact with them.
The infection threatens domestic rabbits severely as the agriculture department announced an estimated three million US households were home to approximately 6.7 million pet rabbits.
Europe, fortunately, has approved a vaccine for the virus and said that it could authorise its use to aid those in need of it, said Dr Zimmerman.
According to the executive director of the House Rabbit Society, Anne Martin, the arrival of the vaccine, however, might be too little too late for owners as veterinarians require the report of at least one rabbit death to begin applying to receive the vaccine in any given state.
Along with the restrictions of the vaccine, the virus also has an incubation period, which means that by the time the rabbits start dying off, the virus has already begun to spread to other creatures that come with the wait for the vaccine until all paperwork are done.
Safety measures that can be taken to avoid the spread of the outbreak are by isolating rabbits and several other steps, according to Ms Martin. She also said that due to the extended lifespan of the virus, "the biggest risk to rabbits is if they are outside or they have any outdoor playtime."