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Days after the first cases of a highly contagious and deadly rabbit disease were confirmed in Minnesota, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health has authorized a vaccine to protect them against it. 

The board earlier this week confirmed Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 (RHDV2) in Ramsey County after two indoor pet rabbits died suddenly. 

RHDV2 is "highly contagious" and can affect domestic and wild rabbits. It does not have any known risk to humans or other species of wildlife. 

In response to the RHDV2 cases, the Board of Animal Health on Friday said it has authorized licensed veterinarians to order and administer an RHDV2 vaccine produced by South Dakota-based Medgene Labs.

“After consulting with our board president and Medgene Labs, I made the decision to allow licensed veterinarians to begin procuring doses as soon as next week,” State Veterinarian Dr. Beth Thompson said in a statement. "I’m confident in this decision based on the recent USDA Center for Veterinary Biologics emergency use authorization for the experimental vaccine.”

Similar to the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, the RHDV2 vaccine is an inactivated recombinant vaccine that is authorized as a two-dose series, with the second dose given 21 days after the first.

RHDV2 can spread through direct contact with infected rabbits or indirectly through contact with an infected carcass, blood, urine and feces, as well as infected surfaces, like cages, food, water and bedding. People can also spread it indirectly by carrying it on their clothing and shoes, and insects and other animals can spread it if they come into contact with an infected rabbit or carcass, the Board of Animal Health said. 

Rabbits that get the disease typically die between a day and a week after becoming infected, and the disease kills 70-90% of infected rabbits, the release said.

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Symptoms of RHDV2 can include rabbits acting lethargic and showing a reluctance to move; sudden death in an otherwise healthy rabbit; and bloody discharge from nostrils and/or mouth after death. They also may have no external signs, the release said.

Animal health officials recommend practicing "good biosecurity" to keep rabbits safe, including sanitizing equipment and cages with a high pH solution, not allowing your rabbit to have contact with wild rabbits, and always washing your hands.

According to the USDA in June 2020, RHDV2 is classified as a "foreign animal disease." It was first detected in the U.S. in 2018, and since February 2020 it has spread to "multiple states across the Southwest," including Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and Texas.

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