A Weld County resident living southeast of Erie was diagnosed with tularemia last week. The resident was hospitalized with a high fever, loss of appetite, and acute diarrhea and is now recovering at home. “This is the first human case of tularemia in Weld County this year” said Cheryl Darnell, Lab Manager for the Weld County Health Department. Additionally, a field mouse in northwest Johnstown and a rabbit southeast of Berthoud tested positive for tularemia. “We are seeing more than three times the usual number of human tularemia cases along the Front Range this year, so the public really needs to be cautious about not getting exposed to this disease,” said Darnell.

Weld County, Colorado Image/David Benbennick
Weld County, Colorado
Image/David Benbennick

Weld County Public Health officials are posting warning signs in affected areas to alert residents of the risks of tularemia and how to avoid exposure. In most of the Colorado tularemia cases, people were exposed to the disease while participating in outdoor activities such as mowing or recreating in areas where sick or dead wildlife were present. People become infected with tularemia through skin contact with infected animal tissue or contaminated soil or water, or from bites of infected arthropods, most commonly ticks and deer flies. The bacteria can also be inhaled when infected animal tissue is broken up into small particles and spread in the air, such as when an infected carcass is mowed over.

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.

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.

Related: Tularemia in the United States 2001-2010: An interview with a CDC Epidemiologist

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.

Tularemia is often overlooked as a diagnosis because it is rare, and the symptoms are similar to other diseases. Public health officials recommend that anyone who becomes ill after exposure to a sick or dead animal, or after spending time outdoors in areas where sick or dying wild animals have been seen, to consult their health care provider about the possibility of tularemia. Tularemia is treatable with antibiotics. For more infectious disease news and information, visit and “like” the Infectious Disease News Facebook page