Tularemia warnings given in New Mexico and Nebraska
Health officials from New Mexico and Nebraska are reporting an increase in cases of the bacterial disease, tularemia, and are advising the public on how to avoid the potentially serious illness.
The New Mexico Department of Health has reported four human cases and six pet cases across the state in the last two months.
Specifically, the human cases include a 45-year-old man from Santa Fe County, an 88-year-old woman from McKinley County, a 62-year-old woman from Santa Fe County and a 75-year-old woman from San Juan County. Three of the human cases were hospitalized and all have recovered and gone home. Onset of illness in the most recent case was June 15.
The pet cases include 2 cats and one dog from Santa Fe County, a dog from Sandoval County, a dog from Los Alamos County, and a cat from Torrance County. They have all recovered.
“I would encourage people in the mentioned counties and around the state to follow the same precautions they would to avoid plague,” said Department of Health Cabinet Secretary, Retta Ward, MPH. “Don’t handle sick or dead rodents, don’t allow pets to roam and hunt, get an appropriate tick and flea control product for pets, and take sick pets to a veterinarian. Since tularemia can be fatal in a small percentage of cases, it should be treated with antibiotics following an evaluation by a physician.”
“The recent human cases in New Mexico had various exposures to tularemia, including skinning a rabbit with bare hands, receiving a bite from a sick cat, cleaning out a water trough with a dead rabbit in it, and being bitten by a deer fly or a tick on the lower leg,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, the Department of Health’s public health veterinarian. “Oftentimes there is a rabbit or rodent die off in an area due to tularemia and deer flies or ticks can become infected from these animals and then pass it on to pets or people when they bite them.”
In Nebraska, State Epidemiologist Dr. Tom Sefranek says there have been six cases of tularemia in the state so far this year, according to a Nebraska Radio Network report.
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.
People commonly get infected from the bites of infected ticks (wood, dog) and deer flies.
Hunters are at risk of infection following skinning, dressing and eating infected animals.
Drinking contaminated water has been implicated in tularemia infection. People also contract it through inhaling dust and hay that have rodent feces and carcasses.
There have been cases where people got infected from a domestic cat. It is believed that cats get the organism from contaminated prey and their mouth and claws become infected.
Certain animal associated occupations are also associated with the disease; farmers, veterinarians, sheepherders and shearers.
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.
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.
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