New Mexico health officials have reported a case of human tularemia in a 51-year-old man from Los Alamos County. The man was hospitalized but has recovered and gone home. There have also been 33 cases of tularemia this year in pet dogs and cats from Bernalillo, Los Alamos, Santa Fe, Taos, and Torrance Counties.
This is the first human tularemia case seen in New Mexico in 2015. In 2014 there were 5 human cases of tularemia recorded in the state.
“Tularemia can cause serious illness in both people and pets. I encourage people around the state to follow the same precautions they would to avoid contracting plague, which includes not handling sick or dead animals,” said Department of Health Cabinet Secretary, Retta Ward, MPH. “People can get tularemia if they handle infected animals such as rabbits or rodents or if they are bitten by infected ticks or deer flies.”
Tularemia is a potentially serious illness in people that occurs in many parts of the United States. It is caused by a bacteria found in animals, especially rodents, rabbits and hares. Tularemia can also make dogs and cats sick and they can give the disease to people. Other possible, but much less likely, exposures are through contact with infected soil or water or by inhaling the bacteria.
Symptoms of tularemia in people usually develop 3 to 5 days after exposure but onset can vary from 1 to 14 days. Tularemia symptoms are similar to plague infection including sudden fever, chills, headaches, diarrhea, muscles aches and joint pain. Other symptoms of tularemia depend on how a person was exposed to the tularemia bacteria and can include pneumonia and chest pain, ulcers on the skin or mouth, swollen and painful lymph glands, swollen and painful eyes, and a sore throat.
“Many areas of the state have seen a large increase in the rabbit population this year and a lot of them have been getting sick and dying from tularemia,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, the Department of Health’s public health veterinarian. “Oftentimes when there is a rabbit or rodent die off in an area due to tularemia, deer flies or ticks can become infected from these animals and then pass it on to pets or people when they bite them.”