Dr. Dilbag Rana injects a rabbit while Dan Watson holds the animal Tuesday. (Aaron Hinks photo)

300 rabbits vaccinated in South Surrey

Volunteers, vets try to stop spread of lethal virus

Described as the “Ebola for bunnies,” a team of volunteers worked together in South Surrey Tuesday afternoon to get ahead of the lethal – and spreading – rabbit haemorrhagic disease.

Four veterinarians and a group of volunteers set up an assembly line of rapid fire vaccinations at Urban Safari Rescue Society on 176 Street, catching, passing and vaccinating approximately 300 football-sized rabbits within a couple of hours.

Majority of the rabbits vaccinated Tuesday were Rabbitats Canada rabbits, however, active volunteers were allowed to bring their rabbits.

Rabbitats Canada founder Sorelle Saidman said the number of feral rabbit deaths is likely in the thousands, and that complete colonies have been wiped out since the disease was confirmed on Vancouver Island in February.

Vancouver Island University, known for its abundance of feral rabbits hoping about on its Nanaimo campus, has had its colony wiped out.

“I think there’s one bunny left alive, left out of hundreds,” Saidman told Peace Arch News.

Earlier this month, the Richmond Animal Shelter euthanized all 66 of its rabbits in care after several of its animals tested positive for rabbit haemorrhagic disease

The outbreak marks the first time the virus has been found in B.C. Saidman said the virus found locally is the same as one found in Spain, however, the virus in Spain had a 30- to 70- per cent mortality rate.

“The virus we are blessed with is killing 95 to 100 per cent of the rabbits it infects,” she said.

In order to prepare for the vaccination clinic, volunteers set up a quarantine zone and everyone entering was required to wear a full medical gown, protective boot covers and a hairnet.

The room where the volunteers administered the vaccinations was wrapped with plastic wrap. Saidman said even flies and mosquitoes can transfer the disease.

The disease is only known to affect rabbits. Other mammals, including humans, are considered safe.

The vaccine has been imported to B.C. from France by the provincial government. Saidman said it was a “colossal effort” to get the drug, as it is an emergency drug import.

“The amount of paperwork, the amount of red tape and the amount of cost has been incredible, but the provincial government stepped in and they have taken the part of the distributor,” she said.

The vaccine has been distributed to 52 vets in the province.

“Now, what will happen, is there will be for sure one more order put in. Basically, British Columbia took every last drop of the vaccine that the company in France had. They’re busy manufacturing more.”

Dr. Veronica Gventsadze, who spoke to PAN Tuesday while she was continuously refilling syringes with the vaccine, said she has never seen anything like this before in her 10 years as a veterinarian.

“Not really no, because the virus is brand new to British Columbia and so is the vaccination of rabbits, which has never been done before.”

She said rabbit owners should “absolutely” get their pet vaccinated.

“But once you do, do not relax your bio-security vigilance,” Gventsadze said.

Rabbit owners can contact their veterinarians to learn how to receive the vaccination.

Other veterinarians that participated in Tuesday’s vaccination exercise include Drs. Dilbag Rana, Joseph Martinez and Adam Avitan.

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Rabbits waiting to be vaccinated at Urban Safari Rescue Society in South Surrey on Tuesday. (Aaron Hinks photo)

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