A young farmer died after handling an infected rabbit he shot on the family farm near Stowmarket, Suffolk.
John Freeman, 29, is believed to be the first person in the UK to fall fatally ill after coming into contact with a rabbit infected with bacterium Pasteurella multocida.
He died three days later from septicaemia.
A postmortem revealed Mr Freeman was infected with the bacterium that causes pasteurellosis – known as snuffles – even though it is not a virus.
His parents believe their son became infected through a blister on his thumb caused by shovelling grain the day before he went out to cull rabbits on the farm.
Mr Freeman, a graduate in land management from Harper Adams University, began to feel unwell and went to see the doctor after developing a rash.
He subsequently collapsed and was taken to hospital in Ipswich where doctors administered a sedative, antibiotics, adrenalin and platelets.
Veterinary experts described the incident as “very unfortunate”.
Although the disease is fairly common in rabbits there are only a handful of human cases each year. Most are from cats and dogs and human fatalities are rare.