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Rabbits Are At Risk Of Their Own Deadly Virus

Rabbits are at risk of a deadly virus of their own right here in the United States.

A strain of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease has recently shown up in some parts of the Western US. If the spread continues, it could harm all dozen-plus species of rabbits in the US and the ecosystems they belong to. The illness although highly contagious, is not connected to coronavirus. Only rabbits, hares and pikas can spread it among each other and humans can not get infected from it. The virus can cause internal bleeding and swelling, but more often rabbits who have it aren't discovered until they've died, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Disease ecologist and head of the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology at New Mexico State University, Matt Gompper says there may be some parallels between Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease and Covid-19. Both are thought to form from one species to another. In the case of this virus it did not come form from bats but from domestic to wild rabbits. They both also came about quickly and have a limited window to fight the virus.

Gompper says the disease most likely began circulating in northern Mexico, which shares a border with New Mexico and Texas. We are seeing deaths of rabbits in Texas, Arizona, Colorado and in May, California. But the rabbit population isn't the only one at risk.

"Rabbits, wherever they're found, tend to have a relatively robust impact on their environment because they're primary herbirvores," Gompper says. "Whether the impact of the virus is such that we'll see those very dramatic ecological changes as a result is still an unknown."

Photo: Getty