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Last Updated: Monday, 21 August 2006, 07:42 GMT 08:42 UK
Man 'first rabbit flu victim'
John Freeman
Mr Freeman is believed to be Britain's first rabbit flu victim
The mother of a man believed to be Britain's first victim of "rabbit flu" has issued a warning about the potentially fatal disease.

Farmer John Freeman, 29, of Aspall near Stowmarket in Suffolk, became infected with the bacteria Pasteurella multocida after picking up a rabbit on his farm.

His mother Joan said he fell ill and died four days later on 5 August.

"People should just be aware that there is this dreadful thing around and potentially it's lethal," she said.

A post-mortem examination revealed that Mr Freeman had died from septicaemia after becoming infected with the bacteria that causes pasteurellosis, which is known as rabbit flu.

Once it is in the bloodstream, that's it
Mother of deceased

A Health Protection Agency spokesman said the bacteria was known to be common among many domestic animals, including cats and dogs, but he was not aware of any other fatal rabbit-to-human transmission.

He said there were only a handful of cases of humans being infected with P. multocida each year, usually from dogs and cats, and deaths were very rare.

Mrs Freeman, who farms with her husband Peter, said she was shocked that there was so little information about the disease among the farming community.

'Healthy country man'

She now wants to make people aware that handling dead rabbits can be potentially fatal.

"Once it is in the bloodstream, that's it," she said.

"If you get it unwittingly, not from an animal bite, the first thing you know about it is when you get a fever and by then you are the walking dead.

"Doctors did everything they could but it was too late, it is such a virulent disease.

"Everyone is so appalled that he should die in this way. It's absolutely shocking, he was such a strong, strapping, healthy country man."

Mrs Freeman said she believed the bacteria passed into her only son's blood via a blister on his thumb.

Doctors initially thought he had chickenpox because he developed a rash on his body.

21 Aug 06 |  Medical notes

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