El Paso County Public Health confirmed Tuesday, Sept. 16 that a wild rabbit in northeast Colorado Springs died of tularemia infection, and are asking residents to remain cautious around wild animals.

Image/Gorman Lewis, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Image/Gorman Lewis, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The rabbit was tested after a resident in the Park Vista subdivision, located near Austin Bluffs Parkway and Stetson Hills Boulevard, found several dead wild rabbits near a property and notified Public Health.

Laboratory tests confirmed the animal died of tularemia, also known as “rabbit fever.”

Tularemia was also confirmed in wild rabbits near Yoder, in eastern El Paso County, in late August. No human cases of infection have been reported. Public health specialists continue to monitor tularemia activity, and are providing public health information to residents in the area.

Residents who find dead animals, especially wild rabbits, on their property are advised to dispose of animals by taking the following steps: apply insect repellent, wear gloves, and use a shovel to place the remains in a double trash bag. Dispose in a trash receptacle. Wash hands with warm soapy water.

Related: Wild rabbit found in El Paso County positive for plague

“Because tularemia is endemic in El Paso County, precautions to prevent tularemia infection should always be taken,” said Program Manager Lee Griffen, R.E.H.S. “Now that tularemia is confirmed in more populated, urban areas, it’s important to take steps to protect pets and children by keeping them away from wild animals.”

Tularemia is a bacterial infection most commonly transmitted to humans by the handling of sick or dead animals infected with tularemia. Infection can also arise from the bite of infected insects (most commonly ticks and deer flies). 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 are similar to plague and include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, chest pain, and coughing. Tularemia can be effectively treated with antibiotics. If you have any of these early signs, contact your medical provider. El Paso County’s last reported human case of tularemia occurred in 2010.

Dogs and cats 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 it to the veterinarian promptly. Tularemia is easily treated if diagnosed early in dogs and cats.

Recommended precautions include:

  • Do not handle sick animals. If a dead animal must be moved, follow the steps outlined above.
  • Leash your pets when outdoors and keep them away from dead animals.
  • When outdoors near places where wild rabbits or rodents are present, wear an insect repellent containing DEET.
  • Wear proper footwear outdoors where dead animals have been found.
  • Routinely use a tick and flea preventative on pets.
  • Avoid mowing over dead animals.

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

  • Use impervious gloves when skinning or handling animals, especially rabbits.
  • Cook the meat of wild rabbits thoroughly to a temperature of 165 degrees F. or higher.