Since April 2016 the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VDL) has confirmed three cases of Tularemia in Minnesota.
Tularemia is a naturally occurring disease of wildlife, particularly rabbits, squirrels, and other rodents. It is a disease that both people and animals can get through tick and fly bites or contact with infected animals.
Tularemia is rare in Minnesota, between zero and three cases are identified in people and zero to five cases are identified in animals annually. To date this year, the three cases have been identified in a cottontail rabbit and two cats – all in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
Cats are the most commonly affected domestic animal in Minnesota; outdoor cats that hunt rabbits are at highest risk. Infected cats often have a high fever, mouth ulcers, depression, and loss of appetite. Dogs rarely show signs, but can have a skin abscess at the site of infection, loss of appetite, and fever.
Signs and symptoms of tularemia in people usually involve fever, swollen lymph nodes, and skin or mouth ulcers. Tularemia is treatable with antibiotics. Symptoms may also include skin or mouth ulcers, diarrhea, muscle aches, joint pain, cough, and weakness. It cannot be transferred person to person People who have had contact with animals such as wild rabbits and have symptoms consistent with tularemia, should consult their healthcare provider and notify the Minnesota Department of Health.
According to Jeff Bender, DVM, MS and professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Tularemia can be prevented by avoiding contact with wild animals, wearing gloves when picking up dead animals, and using insect repellent to reduce the chance of tick and fly bites. Cat owners are encouraged to keep their cats indoors. Outdoor cats, as in the recent cases are often hunters, and are at increased risk for Tularemia.
Pet owners who have concerns that their pet has been exposed, should contact their veterinarian.