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MONTPELIER — Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus, a highly contagious virus capable of affecting rabbits and snowshoe hare, is appearing in states close to Vermont and may show up here, according to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.

The department does not think this virus is present in Vermont at this time, but it is thought to be spreading eastward from the western United States. The virus does not affect other wildlife, humans or pets, except rabbits. It spreads through direct contact with infected rabbits or indirectly through contact with contaminated surfaces.

Sudden mortality in healthy rabbits occurs with this virus, and infected rabbits may be lethargic, reluctant to move, or have blood coming out of the nostrils or mouth.

Vermont Fish and Wildlife advises hunters not to harvest rabbits that appear sick.

“If you find a wild dead rabbit and it’s not obvious what killed it, please contact us,” said David Sausville with Fish and Wildlife.

“When hunters are field-dressing rabbits, wear disposable gloves, securely bag entrails, and other remains, and dispose of them in the trash. Do not discard remains where other animals may have access to them.”

Similar to all wild game preparation, you should wear disposable gloves and refrain from eating, drinking and smoking while handling and cleaning the game. Meat should be cooked thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, and all surfaces in contact with meat should be cleaned and disinfected.

For current information on Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease, visit: tinyurl.com/2tax6ut4.