Agricultural Disaster Preparedness and Recovery November 09, 2016 Print Friendly and PDF

What Is Tularemia and Why Should I Care?

Tularemia is an infectious disease of mammals, especially rabbits and small rodents, caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. F. tularensis can be transmitted to humans through contact with infected animals, consumption of contaminated meat, contact with contaminated equipment or clothing, or contact with contaminated water. Tularemia may also be spread by ticks, biting flies, and mosquitoes. This disease has also had the following names: rabbit fever, deerfly fever, Ohara’s Disease and Francis Disease.

Tularemia is highly infectious and virulent in humans. In the United States, people exposed to wild animals (especially rabbits) and in tick-infested areas are most at risk. In 2002, human cases of tularemia were linked to infected prairie dogs sold as pets. Visit the CDC website for more information about human cases of tularemia.

The CDC considers tularemia as a potential bioterrorism weapon.

Where Is Tularemia Found?

Tularemia is found in the United States, Canada, Europe and northern Asia.

Can Tulameria Affect People?

Tularemia is highly infectious and virulent in humans and is spread through contact with wild animals (especially rabbits and small rodents) and infected tick bites. Six forms of the disease have been described in people, depending on the site of infection.

Inhalation of F. tularensis can result in typhoidal tularemia. The symptoms of this form of the disease include fever, headache, nausea, weight loss, weakness, and severe pneumonia.

The most common form of tularemia is ulceroglandular. This form of the disease is characterized by fever, headache, swollen and painful lymph nodes, and skin ulcers. Glandular tularemia is similar but doesn't produce skin ulcers.

Infection of the eyes can lead to oculoglandular tularemia. In this form of the disease, the conjunctiva of the eye is swollen and painful, exudes pus, and may have nodules present. Patients may also have swollen lymph nodes.

Infection of the throat leads to oropharyngeal tularemia. This form of the disease is characterized by a swollen and painful throat with heavy mucus discharge. The lymph nodes are usually swollen.

The most severe form of tularemia is pneumonic. This form is characterized by severe pneumonia and occasionally delerium. Pneumonic tularemia can be fatal if not treated.

What Are Signs of Tularemia?

  • Sudden death
  • Anorexia
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Ataxia (unsteadiness, loss of coordination)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Rapid pulse
  • Coughing

Can Tularemia Be Treated?

Tularemia may be treated with antibiotics. Any animal suspected of having tularemia should be reported to State Veterinarians or the USDA Area Veterinarian in Charge immediately.

How Can Tularemia Be Prevented?

Tularemia may be prevented by limiting contact with wild animals and taking precautions to prevent tick bites. There is no animal vaccine for tularemia.

Where Can I Find Additional Information?

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.