The cottontail rabbit population on Patience Island in Rhode Island is in danger these days after the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management discovered a highly infectious bacterial disease among the animals.

Just weeks before the Easter bunny's big day, rabbits in Rhode Island are contracting tularemia, according to a RIDEM press release.

Sad news for a population that currently has such low numbers it's a candidate species for Federal Endangered Species protection.

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The tularemia, also known as rabbit fever, was discovered while DEM was performing its annual trapping and health check evaluations on the declining population. Though only one rabbit was diagnosed with rabbit fever, it is highly contagious and more cottontail rabbits on Patience Island likely have contracted it.

Other animals and even humans could have contracted tularemia as well.

DEM says the disease can spread to other wildlife and people through bug bites or inhalation of bacterial particles. But unless you were out and about on Patience Island since mid-January, contraction doesn't seem too likely.

Still, hikers and nature lovers are being warned about the rabbit fever potential in Rhode Island and are being urged to protect themselves from bug bites while enjoying the great outdoors on Patience Island.

That means wearing long sleeves and pants to avoid tick bites, using bug spray to keep flies and mosquitos at bay, and wearing face and eye protection to keep insects from getting in your eyes.

You should protect your four-legged hiking buddies out there, too. Keeping your dog on a leash and away from wildlife, animal droppings and carcasses is essential for keeping them safe as well.

So far, no rabbits off of Patience Island have been found with rabbit fever, so as long as you aren't planning a day trip to adventure on the islands off of Portsmouth you should be good to go.

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