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Tularemia (cont.)

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What causes tularemia?

Tularemia is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. Tularemia is an uncommon disease in humans, with statistics showing less than one case per million people per year in the U.S. This translates into less than 150 cases per year, with a majority in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Illness caused by ticks and insects is most common in the summer months and often occurs in children. Disease caused in winter is associated with hunters who handle dead animals. F. tularensis can infect many types of animals but particularly affects rabbits, hares, and rodents. The disease is sometimes called rabbit fever because it occurs when hunters contact the skin of infected rabbits. Farmers, veterinarians, foresters, landscape workers, and hunters are at risk of contracting tularemia because of their likely direct animal contact, but the disease can also affect others who inadvertently come into contact with animals or are bitten by insects.

Tularemia is usually acquired directly by skinning, eating, or otherwise handling infected animals. In rare instances, transmission has occurred when wild rodents (prairie dogs) were sold as pets. Dried animal material may be aerosolized and inhaled, causing disease. Domestic animals such as cats may pick up the organism on their claws after killing a wild rodent or rabbit. Dogs and cats may also eat contaminated meat, causing fever and swollen nodes. Transmission of tularemia from dogs or cats to humans is rare. Finally, the disease has been transmitted by drinking water contaminated with animal products. Contaminated food and water have been responsible for large outbreaks in times of war.

What are risk factors for tularemia?

Risk factors for tularemia include bites from almost any kind of animal (for example, domesticated dogs or cats can become infected, rodents, wild rabbits), tick bites, aerosols created from animal carcasses and/or bioweapons, handling animal carcasses (for example, skinning animals, sheering sheep), being a veterinarian, landscaper, hiker, or hunter, and eating or drinking contaminated foods.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/7/2016


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