Tularemia was unusually active in 2015 with over 10 human cases of the disease and one fatality in Bighorn County.  Tularemia is relatively common across the entire state, but we normally see only two to three human cases of the disease each year.
Below are some quick facts about tularemia.  Tularemia is a disease that is easily treated with antibiotics once diagnosed, but left untreated; it can progress to a significant human disease.

Agent:  Francisella tularensis – A hardy bacteria that survives well in damp/wet soil

Clinical signs in infected rabbits:  Very few signs because they usually die quickly from the infection, but affected animals may act
stuporous, run slowly, or not carry their head or forefeet well.

Hosts:  Generally rabbits, muskrats, beavers and squirrels.  Many species are susceptible to infection; in domestic species, sheep and house cats are most common.  This disease occasionally affects dogs.  If you suspect your pet may be infected, please contact your local veterinarian for further information.

Transmission:   Bites from infected ticks and biting flies are the most common method of transmission. Other methods of transmission include: ingesting contaminated water, or undercooked meat, direct contact with an infected animal, or inhaling bacteria that may be present in contaminated dust or animal material.

Human Health:  Human cases of tularemia are uncommon (normally 2-3 cases/year in WY).  Although symptoms may vary, the common symptoms are swollen and painful lymph glands, abrupt onset of fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, dry cough, and progressive weakness.   A skin ulcer commonly forms at the site of the insect bite and is frequently accompanied by swelling of regional lymph glands, usually in the armpit or groin.

  • Use an insect repellent that is effective against ticks, biting flies and mosquitoes (e.g. DEET), and wear light colored clothing so that ticks are easier to spot.
  • Do not mow over animal carcasses, and use a dust mask when mowing or doing landscape work (mowing over dead rabbits is a great way to contract tularemia).
  • Avoid handling sick wildlife.   If an animal carcass must be moved, wear gloves and place it in a garbage bag using a long-handled shovel; place the bag in an outdoor garbage can.  Carcasses can also be disposed of by deep burial (deep enough that dogs can’t recover them) or incineration.  Wear gloves and wash hands thoroughly if you must handle sick animals or carcasses.
  • Wear gloves when feild dressing any harvested animal.
  • See a doctor if you become ill with high fever and/or swollen lymph nodes. Tularemia can be treated with antibiotics and early detection is best.
  • Protect your pets and hunting dogs by preventing them from hunting or eating wild animals. Infected pets may in turn transmit the disease to you (especially house cats that may bite if they’re not feeling well and you try to help them). Check your pet for ticks and see a veterinarian if you think your pet may be ill.
  • Avoid drinking unpurified water from streams or lakes and keep your pets from doing the same.
  • Cook meat thoroughly before consumption, especially rabbit or squirrel.
Additional sources of information:
CDC - Tularemia
Wyoming Department of Health

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