Shock as man, 29, killed by rabbit flu

THE mother of a 29-year-old who died from rabbit flu in what is believed to be the first case of its kind in Britain has said she was shocked so little information about the disease was available.

THE mother of a 29-year-old who died from rabbit flu in what is believed to be the first case of its kind in Britain has said she was shocked so little information about the disease was available.

John Freeman became infected with the bacteria pasteurella multocida after picking up a rabbit on his parents' farm at Aspall, near Stowmarket.

His mother Joan said he fell ill the next day with a fever, initially mistaken as chicken pox because he also had a rash on his body, and died days later.

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


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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.

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

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

“Once it is in the blood stream, that's it.”

Mr Freeman, who lived and worked on the farm, went out shooting rabbits alone and for that reason it is unclear how he contracted the disease.

But his mother said she believed the bacteria passed into her son's blood stream via a blister he had on his thumb.

He died on August 5 - four days after falling ill. At the time of his death doctors believed the cause had been E coli and it was only the pathologist who confirmed the real disease which had taken his life.

“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,” Mrs Freeman said.

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

A spokesman for the Heath Protection Agency 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 pasteurella multocida each year, usually from dogs and cats and deaths were very rare.

Mrs and Mrs Freeman said the death of their only son, a university graduate who also attended Otley College and Ipswich School, would lead to the end of a farming dynasty which has been in Aspall since 1641.

More than 500 people attended John's funeral on Thursday and his parents described him as a fun man, who had lots of friends.

Mrs Freeman said: “John had a ready smile and quick wit and was interested to talk to anyone and had friends from all walks of life.

“He loved to joke and play harmless pranks upon his friends and took their pay backs in good part.”

Money collected at his funeral will be split between the Aspall church fund and the doctor's surgery at Mendlesham.

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