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Posted on: June 22, 2018

First Colorado Case of Tularemia in 2018 Found in Jefferson County

a photo of a desert cottontail

Jefferson County, Colo. — A rabbit found in the Golden/Lakewood area (near South Table Mountain Park) has died from tularemia, an uncommon, but serious, infectious disease. This is the first positive case of tularemia in an animal in Colorado in 2018, and the first positive case of tularemia in an animal in Jefferson County since 2015.

Tularemia is often spread through the bite of infected ticks and deer flies or through handling infected sick or dead animals, like rabbits or other rodents. Though less common, the disease can also be spread by eating the meat of infected rabbits or by inhaling airborne bacteria or drinking food or water contaminated with urine from an infected animal.

Though tularemia is rare in Colorado, there are about 200 human cases of the disease in the U.S. each year. Treatment with antibiotics is effective during early stages of the diseases, but if diagnosis and appropriate treatment are delayed, life-threatening complications may follow. Medical care should be obtained as soon as symptoms appear.

Symptoms include fever, non-healing skin ulcer at the site of infection and swollen and painful lymph glands. If the infection is caused by ingesting contaminated food or water, the symptoms include a sore throat, mouth sores, abdominal pain and diarrhea. If the bacteria is inhaled, pneumonia can develop with symptoms including fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, dry cough and progressive weakness.

However, if proper preventive steps are followed, the risk of contracting tularemia is low. Jefferson County Public Health recommends these important steps to prevent exposure:

  • Don’t feed or entice any rodent or rabbit species into your yard, back porch or patio.
  • Eliminate places rabbits and other rodents could live or hide, such as piles of lumber, broken cement, trash and weeds around your home.
  • Make sure that houses and outbuildings are as rodent-proof as possible. Keep foundations in good repair and eliminate overhanging trees from roof and windows.
  • Avoid contact with all sick and dead rabbits and rodents. Look for the presence of blow flies or a “dead animal smell” as evidence of animal die-offs. Report areas where this happens to local or state health departments or to the appropriate campground office.
  • While hiking, prevent insect bites by using insect repellent containing DEET on your skin, and treat pants, socks, shoe tops, arms and legs with insect repellants containing permethrin.
  • Conduct "tick checks" every 2-3 hours if you are spending a lot of time in tick-prone outdoor areas. All ticks attached to the body should be removed immediately. Using a pair of tweezers, slowly pull the tick straight out, without twisting, then wash hands thoroughly after removal.
  • If you hunt or trap rabbits, protect your hands with rubber, plastic or latex gloves while skinning or handling them. Wash your hands using soap and warm water after handling animal carcasses.
  • Be sure to cook wild rabbit and rodent meat thoroughly before eating.
  • Note any change in the behavior of your pets (especially rodents, rabbits and hares) or livestock, and consult a veterinarian if they develop unusual symptoms. Do not handle pets that are acting unusual without gloves and face protection, as they may be sick.
  • Consult a physician if a sudden unexplained illness occurs 3 to 5 days after outdoor activity.

To learn more about tularemia, visit our website at or call the Jefferson County Public Health Zoonosis program at 303-271-5730.

About Jefferson County Public Health

Public health is what we as a society do collectively to prevent illness and premature death and promote health in our neighborhoods and communities. Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) is committed to promoting and protecting health across the lifespan through prevention, education and partnerships for all people. To learn more about JCPH, visit You can also follow JCPH on Twitter @JeffcoPH and Facebook @jeffcopublichealth.

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