This year, a disease called tularemia has been widely reported in Nebraska and neighboring states. Eighteen cases have been reported to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services so far in 2015 which represents a 25-year high. Many of the cases are in the Panhandle. Age range of people affected is 3-82 years old. Eleven people were hospitalized.

Image/National Atlas of the United States
Image/National Atlas of the United States

Tularemia is a disease that can affect animals and people. It’s caused by a bacteria found in animals, insects, soil and water. Rabbits, rodents and hares are especially susceptible. Tularemia can be transmitted to people through several routes including: Tick and deer fly bites, skin contact with infected animals, eating or drinking contaminated food or water and inhalation of contaminated dusts or aerosols.

“Tularemia is a rare disease and seeing this number of cases is unusual. We’re currently working with our local health departments and interviewing people to determine how they may have contracted the disease,” said Dr. Tom Safranek, State Epidemiologist for DHHS.  “We want Nebraskans to continue to follow common-sense precautions that help protect them from not only tularemia but other tick or insect-related illnesses.”

DHHS offers these tips to help avoid tularemia and other tick or insect-related diseases:

  • Use insect repellent
  • Wear long pants, long sleeves and long socks to keep tick and deer flies off your skin
  • Do tick checks after being outdoors and remove attached ticks promptly with tweezers
  • Don’t drink untreated surface water
  • Wear gloves when handling sick or dead animals
  • Avoid mowing over dead animals

Tularemia can cause a wide range of symptoms including; fever and chills, joint pain, muscle aches and headaches, dry cough and chest pain and an open sore and swelling at the site of a tick bite or swollen lymph nodes. Symptoms usually appear 3-5 days after exposure to the bacteria, but can take up to 14 days to appear. Tularemia can be a potentially serious disease but most infections can be treated with antibiotics. Tularemia is not spread person-to-person.