The bacterial disease, Tularemia, is a relatively uncommon infection seen in Canada as atested by the Public Health Agency of Canada who states, “Between 1940 and 1981, there were 289 reported cases of tularemia in Canada and 12 deaths.”
In fact, about 100 cases were reported in Canada during the past decade.
On Friday, for the first time since 2003, a human tularemia case was confirmed in a Sudbury, Ontario adult. It is believed that the individual became infected through contact with wild game.
Tularemia is a disease of animals and humans caused by the bacteria Francisella tularensis. Tularemia is naturally occurring in Ontario wildlife populations, especially in rabbits, hares, voles, muskrats, beavers, and squirrels and in ticks and small domestic animals.
Humans can become infected through several routes, including:
- Bites or licks of an infected animal
- Handling or cleaning the carcass of an infected animal especially the skin or meat
- Eating inadequately cooked wild game
- Inhalation or exposure beneath the skin to contaminated soil
- Drinking contaminated water
- Bites of an infected tick or deer fly
Hunters are at higher risk of exposure because of the handling of wild game carcasses. Transmission of tularemia from person to person has not been reported.
Symptoms of tularemia depend on how a person was infected and range from mild to life-threatening. They can include sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, vomiting, dry cough and difficulty breathing. Other symptoms include skin ulcers, swollen lymph glands, inflamed eyes, sore throat, and diarrhea. The elderly, people with respiratory illness or immune-compromised individuals are most at risk of developing severe illness.
Anyone who is experiencing these symptoms after an exposure to wild game or ticks, should contact their health care provider without delay. Confirmed cases are treated with antibiotics.
Here are some simple measures you can take to protect yourself from tularemia:
- Wear non-absorbent gloves when handling wild game.
- Wash your hands immediately after handling wild game.
- Cook all wild game thoroughly.
- Avoid insect bites by using a Health Canada approved insect repellent and be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
- Wear a long sleeved shirt and long pants while hunting or engaging in other outdoor activities.
- Check your clothing and body for ticks and change your clothing after returning indoors.
- Only drink water from a safe source.
In the United States this year, 221 tularemia cases have been reported through the first 10 months of the year, higher than the five year average.
Robert Herriman is a microbiologist and the Editor-in-Chief of Outbreak News Today and the Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch
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