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The highly anticipated vaccine for a deadly virus stalking rabbits across the Lone Star State arrives this week in Central Texas from France, touching off a collective sigh of relief in an increasingly anxious local bunny-owner community.
"It's awesome. We're super excited," said Lindsay Rader, shelter manager at the House Rabbit Resource Network in Pflugerville, one of the biggest and oldest rabbit rescues in the state.
The shelter, which typically houses 150-200 bunnies, is a potential hot spot for the highly contagious Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus strain, known as RHDV2.
Baby Shark and Quebec
(House Rabbit Resource Network)
The shelter is, therefore, first in line to vaccinate its current population when the hard-won vaccine—secured through a months-long slashing of state-level red tape by locals—gets here at the end of May.
Until then, bunnies that come in are quarantined for two weeks before they are allowed into the general population, Rader said. The volunteer staff leave their shoes at the shelter or cover them with booties to keep from bringing home RHDV2.
"We've already been doing more of that because of COVID-19, so it hasn't been such a big jump for everybody to take on added security," Rader said.
(House Rabbit Resource Network)
At least one pet bunny has died of the illness in Lampasas, the closest report to Austin so far.
"We think the virus is moving rapidly towards this area," said veterinarian and rabbit specialist Todd Riggan, owner of White Rock Veterinary Hospital in Pflugerville, who spearheaded the effort to get a vaccine to local domestic bunnies.
Austin-area bunny owners are being warned: Keep pet bunnies indoors, separate them from other pets in the home, leave shoes at the door when they come inside, and don't gather food for them outside.
Austin bunny owner Angela Southern, whose lionhead rabbit Winston is 10 years old, is married to a nurse who already takes his shoes off when he comes home from work—so as not to expose his family to COVID-19.
The dual virus precautions feel "overwhelming," she said.
"Everybody is at risk of something," she said. "But we're on the list for the vaccine so hopefully in the next couple of weeks, he'll get that. And then I won't be so paranoid."
Although the two are not connected, parallels to the simultaneous battle being waged by the human race against the coronavirus pandemic are not hard to find.
Except with death rate upwards of 70% and "sudden death" listed as a symptom, the bunnies are doing worse.
"It's like Ebola for rabbits," Riggan said.
RHDV2 can jump from wild rabbits to domestics, but not to other species.
It is easily transmitted through contact, surfaces, mice, mosquitoes, flies and bird droppings. It can live in an environment for three months and resists typical disinfectants. Symptoms are rare but can include jaundice, bleeding and seizures.
The vaccination arriving in Texas on May 30 is only allowed for domestic rabbits.
The current strain appeared in Washington State a year ago. It showed up again in Arizona and New Mexico in March, hitting West Texas in May, according to the House Rabbit Society information network.
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