Lethal and highly contagious disease that strikes rabbits is detected in Palm Springs

A jack rabbit is seen in this undated file photo. (Getty Images)

A jack rabbit is seen in this undated file photo. (Getty Images)

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A lethal disease that strikes rabbits has been detected in a jackrabbit in Palm Springs, leading veterinarians and animal rescue organizations to prepare for its potential spread to San Diego County and throughout the state.

The disease, rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus, is highly contagious and can jump between wild and domestic populations. It hit California for the first time in early May, when a group of about 10 dead rabbits were found in Palm Springs, and tests of one of the carcasses came back positive for the virus.

With a fatality rate as high as 80%, the disease can decimate colonies of rabbits, jackrabbits, pika and hare, but it does not affect humans or other animals, including cats or dogs. Pets, scavengers and other animals can spread the virus on their feet or fur, however, so officials are taking steps to protect rescued rabbits and urging rabbit owners to safeguard their pets.

“It spreads very fast in the wild populations,” said Jon Enyart, director of wildlife medicine for Project Wildlife, the rescue arm of the San Diego Humane Society. “Then it runs rampant through the domestic populations as well.”

Read the full story on LATimes.com.

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