Rabbit on island off R.I. coast tests positive for contagious infection

Tularemia, or rabbit fever, can sicken humans and other animals.

A New England cottontail rabbit.
A New England cottontail rabbit. –AP Photo/New Hampshire Fish and Game

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A cottontail rabbit trapped by authorities tested positive for a contagious bacterial infection that can sicken humans and other animals.

The rabbit with Tularemia, or rabbit fever, was trapped on Patience Island in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay, the state Department of Environmental Management said on Monday.

Authorities learned of the diagnosis March 3 and urged visitors to Patience Island to avoid contact with wildlife, including biting insects, and to cover their face and eyes.

The male rabbit was trapped as a part of a species restoration program that transfers rabbits from Patience Island to other areas of the cottontail’s historic range. The population has been declining, authorities said.

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Tularemia is a highly contagious disease that can be spread through insect bites or the inhalation of bacteria particles, authorities said. It is not known to spread from person to person and cases in the state are rare. Tularemia is treatable but can be fatal to humans and animals if left untreated.

The rabbit was trapped Jan. 27 and died in captivity Feb. 3.

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