Arizona: Tularemia death reported in Flagstaff area

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The Coconino County Public Health Services District (CCPHSD), announced today that a human case of tularemia, also known as rabbit fever or deer fly fever, was confirmed in the Flagstaff area of Coconino County. The individual died from the illness.

Health officials do not specify how the individual contracted the bacterial disease.

Image/Gorman Lewis, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Image/Gorman Lewis, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

There have been 4 human cases of tularemia in Coconino County since 2005, two confirmed cases in 2005 and two in 2015, none of which were fatal. This is the first confirmed case of tularemia in Coconino County this year.

In Arizona, tularemia activity occurs in elevations above 3,000 feet and is a bacterial disease that infects rabbits and other mammals. The disease does not spread from person to person but can be transmitted to humans in several ways. The primary mode of transmission is through the skinning and cleaning of game animals, usually rabbits. It can also be transmitted to humans through deer fly and tick bites, by eating or drinking contaminated food or water, or by pets who have contracted the disease.

An infected person may show a variety of symptoms, including an ulcer or sore at the site of exposure, painful swelling of regional lymph nodes (usually in the armpit, elbow, groin, or neck area), fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and nausea. Tularemia-like symptoms appear 1 to 14 days, but usually 3 to 5 days, after skinning game, or after being bitten by deer flies or ticks. People can also develop pneumonia and may have symptoms including chest pain, bloody sputum and trouble breathing.

Tularemia can be a severe and fatal disease if it is not treated properly treated immediately with antibiotic therapy. Because tularemia is not spread from person to person, people who have it do not need to be isolated.

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