A rare tularemia death has been reported in Champaign County, Illinois, according to a News-Gazette report today. The identification of the deceased has not been disclosed by health officials.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, there were just four cases in 2012 and five in 2011, which are mostly due to direct contact with infected animals.

 Francisella tularensis
Tularemia is caused by the bacterium, Francisella tularensis. Symptoms vary depending on how the person was exposed to the disease, and as is shown here, can include skin ulcers/CDC

In addition, The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District said that cats in the area have tested positive for the bacterial disease in each of the past three years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were a total of 1,208 human tularemia cases reported during the ten year period of 2001-2010.

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Also known as rabbit fever and deer fly fever,tularemia is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. This bacterium is found in nature in rabbits, rodents, beavers, squirrels and several domestic and farm animals.

People commonly get infected from the bites of infected ticks (wood, dog) and deer flies. Hunters are at risk of infection following skinning, dressing and eating infected animals.

Drinking contaminated water has been implicated in tularemia infection. People also contract it through inhaling dust and hay that have rodent feces and carcasses.

There have been cases where people got infected from a domestic cat. It is believed that cats get the organism from contaminated prey and their mouth and claws become infected.

Certain animal associated occupations are also associated with the disease; farmers, veterinarians, sheepherders and shearers.

The disease in people depends on how it is acquired. After infection, incubation can be a couple of days to weeks, with non-specific symptoms like fever, chills, headache, sore throat and diarrhea.

The way the organism enters the body frequently dictates the disease and degree of systemic involvement. The six syndromes are ulceroglandular, glandular, oculoglandular, oropharyngeal, typhoidal and the one with the highest mortality rate, pneumonic tularemia.

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