Tularemia is a bacterial disease associated with various animal species, especially rodents, rabbits, hares and beavers. Humans can be infected with the bacteria, which is treatable with appropriate antibiotics. People can get tularemia from many different sources, including through the bite of an infected insect (usually a tick or deerfly), handling infected animal carcasses, consuming contaminated food or water or by inhalation of the bacteria. Although this disease can occur throughout the year, the peak times correspond with the tick season (in spring and summer) and with the rabbit hunting season in early winter. Tularemia is not spread from person to person.
Symptoms usually appear three to five days after exposure and can include a sudden high fever, headaches, swollen lymph nodes, muscle and joint pain and a sore or lesion at the site where the bacteria entered the body.
In addition, if the bacteria are ingested, such as by swallowing contaminated water or eating improperly cooked/prepared rabbit meat, a person may have a sore throat, abdominal pain, vomiting or diarrhea. If any of these symptoms are noted after handling dead animals or swallowing untreated drinking water (as you find in a creek), contact your doctor.
Recommendations for avoiding exposure to tularemia include the following:
- Do not handle sick or dead animals. Instruct children to leave wildlife alone.
- Wear rubber gloves when skinning or handling animals, especially rabbits.
- Thoroughly cook (165 degrees Fahrenheit) meat from wild game, especially rabbit and squirrel meat, before eating.
- Use protective clothing and insect repellents to avoid deerfly and tick bites.
- Conduct frequent "tick checks.”
- Check your body for ticks after being outdoors, even in your own yard.
- Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body and remove any tick you find. Check these parts of your body and your child's body for ticks:
- Under the arms
- In and around the ears
- Inside belly button
- Back of the knees
- In and around the hair
- Between the legs
- Around the waist
- Avoid untreated drinking water.
- Use DEET or other tick repellent during the Colorado tick season. Ticks emerge in the mountains of Colorado in late March and are present throughout the summer with the peak season occurring in late May through early June.
Visit the Centers for Disease Control website [external link] for more information.