By NewsDesk  @bactiman63

Rhode Island Health and Agriculture (DEM) officials report a New England cottontail rabbit from Patience Island that tested positive for tularemia (Francisella tularensis) recently.

Image by RusticPix .com from Pixabay

Located off the northwest coast of Prudence Island in Portsmouth, Patience Island is currently home to a New England cottontail rabbit (NEC) population, a candidate species for Federal Endangered Species protection. These rabbits on Patience Island have been used as a source for stocking rabbits throughout their historic range from Maine south to New York. As part of this large-scale regional effort DEM staff annually trap rabbits to move to areas throughout the region to bolster declining NEC populations. All rabbits trapped on Patience Island are given a general health evaluation.

On January 27, 2021 a male NEC was captured on Patience Island to be part of a restoration. This rabbit died on February 3, 2021 in captivity while being prepared for release. The rabbit was necropsied on February 4, 2021 and a positive test for tularemia was returned on March 3, 2021.

Tularemia, or rabbit fever, is a highly contagious infectious bacteria that affects humans, pets, and a wide range of wildlife species, especially rabbits, squirrels, and other rodents. It is spread by biting flies, mosquitoes, ticks, as well as contact with infected animals. Tularemia can also be spread through inhalation or ingestion of bacteria particles, and as few as 10 to 50 particles can cause an infection. Tularemia is not known to be spread person to person. Tularemia is rare and only one human case has been reported in Rhode Island since 2008. Symptoms include fever, skin ulcers and enlargement of lymph nodes. Tularemia is a treatable infection; however, if left untreated it can be fatal to humans, pets, and wildlife.

DEM is warning people to avoid being bitten by insects or any contact with wildlife while on Patience Island. Ticks that transmit tularemia to humans include the dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), the wood tick (D. andersoni), and the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum). Other transmission routes include deer fly bite, inhalation, ingestion, and through skin contact with infected animals. To ensure optimal protection, people should use insect repellent and wear personal protective equipment, including long sleeves and pants, as well as face and eye protection.