In the summer of 1886, Dr. E. L. Trudeau devised a simple experiment which demonstrated the beneficial effects of climate, fresh air and ample food on the course of tuberculosis in infected animals. He infected a number of rabbits with the tubercle bacillus and then confined half of the infected animals, along with a control group of healthy rabbits, giving them a minimum of food, sunlight, fresh air and exercise. The rest of the infected rabbits were set free on a little island (now called Rabbit Island) in Spitfire Lake near Trudeau's camp. Here they ran wild in the open air with plenty of food and water.
After a period of time he examined the animals. The infected rabbits that were confined all developed tuberculosis and died, yet the healthy ones merely failed to thrive in confinement; they did not come down with TB. On the island, however, all of the rabbits thrived, despite their infection.
The results provided the proof which Dr. Trudeau had sought. First was the conclusion that bad conditions in and of themselves could not produce tuberculosis. His second and more far-reaching conclusion was that in the presence of tuberculosis infection, a subject's resistance could be directly affected by the environment. Fresh air, good food, ample rest, and moderate exercise could actually slow down or stop the progression of tuberculosis. Dr. Trudeau published the results of his experiment in July 1887 in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences and read a paper on the subject at a national meeting of the American Climatological Association that same year.
A commemorative plaque was placed on the island in 1972. Under a Trudeau Institute seal showing Little Red, the inscription reads "On this island in 1886 Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau conducted his historic experiment to determine the effect of environment on the incidence and progress of tuberculosis in a colony of rabbits. This plaque was placed by Trudeau Institute, Inc. in commemoration of this pioneering study in experimental epidemiology, October 7, 1972."