Colorado health officials have reported a human tularemia case that occurred in a Morgan County resident late last week. This is the 16th human case of “rabbit fever” reported in Colorado since May.

Morgan County, Colorado/David Benbennick
Morgan County, Colorado/David Benbennick

“Although having a human case is not completely surprising, as some of our neighboring counties have already seen human cases this year and a dead beaver has tested positive for tularemia in Morgan County, this disease is a novelty in our area,” said Dr. Tony Cappello, NCHD’s public health director. “Fortunately there are precautions our residents can take to prevent tularemia, and many of those precautions will also help prevent transmission of other animal-borne diseases such as West Nile virus, Hantavirus and plague.”

Tularemia, which is not known to spread from person to person, is a potentially serious illness that occurs naturally in the U.S. Transmission can come from handling infected animals such as rabbits, rodents or hares, bites from ticks or deer flies, or by touching contaminated soil, drinking contaminated water, or inhaling the bacteria. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment almost all of the cases in Colorado so far this year have resulted from an exposure to soil or vegetation, such as mowing, landscaping, gardening and soil excavation.

Symptoms of tularemia usually appear three to five days after exposure and include sudden fever, chills, headaches, diarrhea, muscle aches, joint pain, dry cough, progressive weakness, pneumonia, chest pain and difficulty breathing. Other symptoms depend on how a person was exposed to the bacteria and can include ulcers on the skin or mouth, swollen and painful lymph glands, swollen and painful eyes, and a sore throat.

People who have been exposed to the bacteria should be treated as soon as possible because the disease can be fatal if it’s not treated with the right antibiotics. Antibiotics are most effective when the illness is diagnosed early. If you experience flu-like symptoms combined with a swollen lymph node, and have been exposed to a sick or dead animal or have been bitten by ticks or deerflies, see your healthcare provider immediately