As humanity contends with the coronavirus, rabbits have a disease of their own to worry about. Earlier this month, California's Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed a "highly contagious and lethal" sickness in its wild rabbit population—and that's not the only state that's getting hit. The New York Times reports that dead rabbits have also been popping up since March in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Nevada, and they're perishing from the "extraordinarily sturdy" rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus type 2, which affects wild rabbits, domestic rabbits, hares, and pikas, a small mammal found in western North America. Infected rabbits may have a fever, lose their appetite, or have bloodstained noses from internal bleeding, among other symptoms listed by the USDA, but the disease often happens so quickly that dead rabbits are often the first sign that RHDV2 has struck.
Matt Gompper, a New Mexico State University disease ecologist, tells CNN it's believed the disease, which spreads only among rabbits, originated about 10 years ago in European rabbits, which make up many of the domestic rabbits in the US. Per the USDA, the first North American cases were reported among feral rabbits in Canada in February 2018, followed by a pet rabbit in Ohio in September of that year. The National Wildlife Health Center notes the disease can be spread by rabbits, their meat or fur, or anything that has come in contact with them, including insects. Even though humans, pets, and livestock can't catch the disease, Gompper tells CNN that if rabbits keep dying off, their ecosystems will also suffer, as animals that feed on them lose a food supply, and plants that rabbits usually nibble on become overgrown. Endangered rabbit species could also be wiped out. (Read more rabbits stories.)