Three pet cats living in the City of La Crosse have died of tularemia since the end of July. Tularemia is a zoonotic bacterial disease spread between animals and humans. It is transmitted to people and other animals through tick bites and biting flies or contact with infected rabbits and rodents.
In addition, human infection following contact with infected cats has been well documented. Tularemia is not transmitted person to person. All three cats that have died from tularemia in the City of La Crosse were allowed to run outside where, in all probability, they fed on an infected rabbit or rodent or were bitten by an infected tick. Symptoms of tularemia infection of a cat include cough, difficulty breathing, skin sores or ulcers, poor appetite, weight loss, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, swollen lymph nodes and lethargy.
In humans, the onset of tularemia is typically sudden and influenza like, with high fever, chills, fatigue, general body ache, headache and nausea. Most often it develops as an indolent skin ulcer at the site of introduction of the bacteria together with swelling of the regional lymph nodes.