NewsDesk @bactiman63

Public Health Officials announced Pueblo County’s first human tularemia case in 2022 in a youth.

“Pueblo residents, especially those living in Pueblo West, are advised that tularemia causing bacteria may be present in some of the mammals, especially rabbits, rodents, and hares, and on the ground where these animals may be active,” Alicia Solis, program manager at the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment. Solis added, “Human tularemia cases are rare, but some activities may increase the risk of developing the disease.  These activities may include inhaling or drinking contaminated soil or water, having direct skin contact with infected animals or being bitten  by a tick or deer fly.”

Tularemia, “rabbit fever,” can be spread through soil contaminated with the droppings or urine of sick animals such as rabbits and tularemia-causing bacteria can aerosolize and be inhaled when a person mows, blows leaves, or turns up soil.

“Because tularemia is known to be in Pueblo County, precautions to prevent tularemia infection should always be taken, especially when mowing weeds or grass and when soil is disturbed,” emphasized Solis.

Infection can also occur from the bite of infected insects (most commonly ticks and deer flies) as well as to soil and vegetation. Hunters who skin animals without gloves and are exposed to infected blood through an open wound are also at risk. Typical signs of infection in humans include fever, chills, headache,  muscle aches, chest pain, and coughing. Tularemia can be treated with antibiotics; contact your medical provider if these early signs are present.

Dogs and cats can also get tularemia by eating infected rabbits or other rodents and through tick and deer fly bites. If your pet shows symptoms of illness including fever, nasal and eye discharge, and skin sores, take the pet to a veterinarian promptly. Tularemia is easily treated if diagnosed early in dogs and cats.

Recommended precautions include:

  • Avoid handling wild animals.
  • When outdoors near places where wild rabbits or rodents are present, wear insect repellent with DEET.
  • Use a dust mask when mowing or doing yard work. Do not mow over animal carcasses.
  • Wear shoes covering your feet when outdoors where dead animals have been found.
  • Do not go barefoot or wear sandals while gardening, mowing, or landscaping.
  • Wear gloves while gardening or landscaping and wash your hands after these activities.
  • Do not drink unpurified water from streams or lakes or allow your pets to drink surface waters.
  • Leash your pets when outdoors and keep them away from dead animals.
  • Routinely use a tick and flea prevention treatment on pets.
  • If a dead animal must be moved, avoid direct contact with the carcass. Wear insect repellent to protect yourself from fleas or ticks and use a long-handled shovel to scoop up the carcass.
  • Place the carcass in a garbage bag and dispose in an outdoor trash receptacle. Wash your hands with soap and water afterwards.

If you hunt, trap, or skin animals, take added steps:

  • Use gloves that do not allow fluids to pass through when skinning or handling animals, especially rabbits.
  • Cook the meat of wild rabbits thoroughly to a temperature of 165°F or higher.