The City of Albuquerque Environmental Health Department and the Bernalillo County Health and Protection Section want to advise citizens living in the East Mountains area to be aware of a potential risk to public health from tularemia after two dogs were recently confirmed to have contracted the disease.

Tularemia is a highly infectious bacterial disease that is similar to plague. The organism commonly occurs in rabbits and rodents, and can kill large numbers of rabbits quickly. Symptoms in humans include chills, fever, severe headache and occasionally skin lesions, and transmission can occur from the bite of an infected tick or deer fly, or from close contact with an animal that is infected with tularemia.

“The rain and increased vegetation we have seen over the last several months has provided extra food and harborage for rodent and rabbit populations,” said Dr. Paul Smith, a manager for the City of Albuquerque Environmental Health Department. “A larger number of rodents and rabbits often leads to more occurrences of both tularemia and plague.”

Although there have been no human cases of plague or tularemia so far in Bernalillo County in 2015, five dogs and one rabbit have been confirmed with tularemia infection. The two most recent confirmations in dogs were made on June 22. Plague has been confirmed in one cat in 2015.

“Dogs and cats can become infected with plague and tularemia through hunting rodents and rabbits or by exposure to their fleas or ticks.” said Dr. Mark DiMenna, Deputy Director for the City of Albuquerque Environmental Health Department. “People are often exposed when their pets bring these infected fleas or ticks into the house or through direct contact with the sick or dead rodent.”