Tularemia is most commonly spread by the bite of an infected insect such as a deerfly or tick. People can also get tularemia by getting blood or tissue from infected animals (especially rabbits) in their eyes or mouth, or in cuts or scratches on the skin. It can also be spread by handling or eating rabbit meat that is not cooked well. Tularemia does not spread person-to-person.
The usual symptoms of tularemia are sudden fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, chest pain, and coughing. If tularemia is caused by the bite of an infected insect or from bacteria entering a cut or scratch, it usually causes a skin ulcer (open sore) and swollen glands. Eating or drinking food or water containing the bacteria may produce a throat infection, stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. Breathing dust containing the bacteria may cause a pneumonia-like illness.
Tularemia is confirmed in humans by testing at healthcare facilities. Fortunately, human cases are rare and can be effectively treated with antibiotics. Many Utahns safely hunt and eat rabbits every season (September 1 – February 28).
Tularemia can be prevented by:
- Discouraging children and pets from touching sick or dead rabbits, or other possibly infected animals or carcasses.
- Wearing gloves when skinning or handling animals, especially wild rabbits.
- Cooking wild rabbit meat thoroughly.
- Wearing protective clothing and repellants containing DEET to protect against insect bites.
For more information, visit health.utah.gov/epi/diseases/tularemia