Lethal Rabbit virus spreads to Comox Valley but vaccine now available


WATCH: Owners are increasingly concerned after more rabbit deaths on Vancouver Island are being connected to an outbreak of the deadly virus. However, there is some good news as a new vaccine is available but it’s not easy to get. Luisa Alvarez has more.

The deadly rabbit hemorrhagic disease was confirmed in Nanaimo earlier this month with several cases of feral rabbits dying from the disease.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development confirmed the virus has spread.  According to a press release “testing has confirmed that dead feral rabbits, found in the Comox Valley, suffered from rabbit hemorrhagic disease.”

The virus that only affects rabbits and causes hemorrhages. It affects the blood vessels and attacks the liver and other organs.

Most rabbits die suddenly but can show signs of listlessness, lack of coordination, changes in behaviour, or trouble breathing before death. There is often bleeding from the nose at the time of death. Once infected, signs of illness occur quickly, usually within one to nine days.

While no vaccine to protect rabbits is available in Canada, Stacey Thomas with the BC College of Veterinarians says because of the outbreak, the federal government has granted an emergency import permit for bringing the vaccine into the country.

“The potential scenario was that each individual vet that had clients that wanted the vaccine would have to apply for a permit, fill out all this paperwork, place their own individual order and arrange all of this themselves,” said Thomas.

But because the demand has grown, Thomas says the new protocol will allow the B.C. chief veterinary officer (CVO) to be the one in charge of distributing the vaccination.

“The Government of Canada has granted authority to the chief veterinary officer of BC to be the receiver, sort of the lead on this. She is collecting orders from vets in BC and all of their information and she will place one central order,” said Thomas.

Because the vaccination is not approved in Canada, each client that wants to vaccinate their pet rabbit will have to sign a vaccination certificate acknowledging the risks of an unapproved drug. The vet that administered the vaccine will also sign and then the certificate needs to be scanned and sent to the CVO.

According to the BC’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Jane Pritchard, the distributor in France hopes to ship the order on Tuesday. So all veterinarians with clients who wish to vaccinate their pet rabbits need to have their orders in within the next two days.

Luisa AlvarezLuisa Alvarez

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