Be careful when outdoors to avoid ‘rabbit fever’ |

Be careful when outdoors to avoid ‘rabbit fever’

Eleven human cases of tularemia, also known as “rabbit fever,” have occurred in Colorado since May, the most recent diagnosis being in Mesa County last week. The Garfield County Public Health Office cautions everyone to be careful when handling or working with wildlife to prevent further infections.

“Although there’s no need for panic, just know it is a potentially life-threatening disease,” said Yvonne Long, director of the Garfield County Public Health Office. “Everyone should take precaution where they can.”

Tularemia is a disease caused by bacteria called Francisella tularensis. Although commonly found in rodents, rabbits and hares — of which Colorado has a bumper crop this summer — people can be infected by insects, such as ticks, deerflies or mosquitoes. Humans can also contract tularemia by handling infected, sick or dead animals, by eating or drinking contaminated food or water, or inhaling airborne bacteria while gardening or mowing. People do not infect each other, so there is no need for the infected person to be isolated.

Symptoms vary depending on how the person was exposed. Symptoms can be similar to those of a common cold. Most doctors will look for swollen lymph nodes to determine whether or not it is tularemia.

“It isn’t very common, so doctors do not always realize it is tularemia at first,” Long said. “It usually takes a laboratory test to determine if it is tularemia, but once its diagnosed, it is very curable with antibiotics.”

Tularemia can be fatal if the person is not treated with appropriate antibiotics. If you think you were exposed to tularemia bacteria, see your doctor immediately. They will notify local and state health departments so an investigation and infection control activities can begin.

To prevent exposure to tularemia, the Public Health Office recommends:

• Wear gloves while gardening, landscaping or mowing. Wash your hands after you do one of those things.

• Use a mask while mowing to avoid inhaling bacteria.

• Do not go barefoot while gardening, landscaping or mowing.

• Use bug repellent. Effective repellents contain 20 to 30 percent DEET, picaridin or IR3535.

• Do not drink unpurified water, especially from streams or lakes.

• Prevent pets from hunting or eating wild animals. Contact a veterinarian if your pet becomes ill with a high fever and/or swollen lymph nodes.

For more information call the Garfield County Public Health Office at (970) 945-6614.

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