Hundreds of rabbits killed by rare, highly infectious disease in Nanaimo
CTV Vancouver Island
Published Friday, March 2, 2018 4:46PM PST
Last Updated Friday, March 2, 2018 6:48PM PST
A rare disease has killed hundreds of feral rabbits in Nanaimo, but officials are reassuring pet owners that there's no threat to other animals.
The province says three rabbits found dead on the Vancouver Island University campus and Rotary Bowl area have tested positive for the lethal and contagious rabbit haemorrhagic disease. Local officials say even more have been killed by the disease.
The rabbits were sent to the Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford, which determined the animals had been infected by the virus.
It's only the third time the disease has been diagnosed in Canada and the first time it's been diagnosed in B.C.
The condition is caused by a calcivirus and causes blood vessels to rupture in rabbits. The disease cannot infect humans or other animals including cats and dogs.
The City of Nanaimo says lifeless rabbits have been found throughout the south end of the city and the morgue at Nanaimo Animal Control is now full.
Organizations that rescue injured or orphaned rabbits, like Flying Fur Animal Rescue and Refuge in Parksville, are trying to prevent the spread of the disease by bringing their rabbits indoors.
"Just panic...trying to make sure we put protection policies in place so we can stop the spread of the disease," said volunteer Leah Moore. "We hope that all the bunnies here are safe."
Overall, more than 30 feral rabbits have been found dead at VIU, a dozen at Rotary Bowl and roughly 200 at a nearby rescue.
The disease is so contagious that it can spread through the air and has no known cure, according to experts.
Those with pet rabbits are being warned to maintain good hygiene and avoid coming into contact with areas known to carry the virus. Anyone who does should sanitize their shoes and even change clothes so as not to spread it, according to animal control.
While it has been used for population control in other countires, how the deadly virus arrived on Vancouver Island remains a mystery.
An extremely infectious and lethal rabbit virus is on the move in #Nanaimo. Its a first for #BC and only the 3rd diagnoses in Canada. A warning to bunny owners tonight on @CTVNewsVI pic.twitter.com/2fR50KtTm8— Jessica Lepp (@CTVNewsJess) March 3, 2018