Vaccine against deadly rabbit disease coming to B.C.

The government has issued warnings about rabbit haemorrhagic disease, a calicivirus that causes a fever, convulsions and kills a rabbit within 36 hours. Now, B.C.'s top vet says vaccines will be imported from France to curb it.

'The impact of the diseases is quite sudden and overwhelming,' says B.C.'s chief veterinary officer

A young European rabbit. Provincial officials say the rabbit haemorrhagic disease spreading in B.C. only infects European rabbits, not native North American species. (R. Maximiliane/Shutterstock)

B.C.'s chief veterinary officer says vaccines will be imported from France to curb an ongoing disease killing rabbits in the province

The B.C. government has issued warnings about rabbit haemorrhagic disease, a calicivirus that causes a fever, convulsions and kills a rabbit within 36 hours.

The virus has been found in dead rabbits in the areas of Nanaimo, Delta and most recently, the Comox Valley.

"It's very lethal," Dr. Jane Pritchard told All Points West host Jason D'Souza. "The populations that have been affected, people report that basically the rabbits were there and then they're gone.

"The impact of the diseases is quite sudden and overwhelming."

Pritchard says the disease was not seen as a threat until this outbreak which prompted what she called quick action from Ottawa to bring in the vaccine from abroad.

There are restrictions on importing the vaccine into Canada, she said, but those have been lifted due to this outbreak, only the third one to happen in this country in the last 10 years.

Pritchard says rabbit owners need to exercise extreme caution: she says it's important to make sure clothing doesn't carry it in from outside, and it's best to keep rabbits inside.

Ultimately, she says, the vaccine is the best protection.

Rabbit owners who want to protect their animals will need to order the vaccine and get a waiver signed by a veterinarian.

Pritchard says a limited supply of the vaccine will hopefully be shipped Tuesday but more will be available after Apr. 24.

She's hopeful the imported vaccine will be enough for B.C.'s pet and livestock rabbits but said there's little to be done for feral rabbits.

Listen to the full interview:

The government has issued warnings about rabbit haemorrhagic disease, a calicivirus that causes a fever, convulsions and kills a rabbit within 36 hours. Now, B.C.'s top vet says vaccines will be imported from France to curb it. 7:08

With files from CBC Radio One's All Points West