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What to know about Tularemia

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  • Written By: Felicia Messimer

Tularemia has been in the news recently throughout the state, and this week the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) confirmed one more case of it. In late July, the WDH confirmed two cases of tularemia in Weston County residents, as well as in prairie dogs and voles near Devils Tower, and cottontail rabbits in Platte County.

Tularemia — also known as rabbit fever or deer fly fever — is a rare bacterial disease that typically attacks the skin, eyes, lymph nodes and lungs. The disease mainly affects mammals, especially rodents, rabbits and hares; however, it can be found in birds, sheep and dogs, cats and hamsters.

According to the WDH, people may acquire tularemia when bit by infected ticks, deer flies or horse flies. It can also be transmitted by handling infected animals, or through ingestion or contact with untreated, contaminated water or insufficiently cooked meat.

Campbell County Health Infection Preventionist Julia Norlin wants residents to be aware of the following symptoms:

  • Fever, swollen and painful lymph glands, inflamed eyes, sore throat, mouth sores, skin ulcers and diarrhea. Early symptoms almost always include the abrupt onset of fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, dry cough, and progressive weakness.
  • If the bacteria are inhaled, symptoms can include sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, dry cough and progressive weakness and pneumonia. Persons with pneumonia can develop chest pain, difficulty breathing, bloody sputum, and respiratory failure. Some persons with the lung and systemic forms of the disease may die if they are not treated with appropriate antibiotics.

If you or someone you know becomes ill with any of these symptoms within two weeks of being in an affected area, CCH encourages you to seek medical attention and tell your doctor about possible exposure to tularemia.

"Avoiding exposure to tularemia is key, and is quite simple," Julia says. "Apply insect repellents containing DEET when outdoors, and do not handle dead rodents or rabbits—and, if you must handle a dead animal, wear gloves and wash your hands carefully afterward."

The WDH also lists recommendations to avoid tularemia, or other tick-related diseases:

  • Wear light-colored clothing to make it easier to see ticks crawling on clothing.
  • Tuck pant legs into socks.
  • Apply insect repellents such as those containing 20 percent or more DEET and/or picaradin.
  • Upon return from potentially tick-infested areas, search self and children for ticks and remove if found.
  • Check pets for ticks; use tick control products recommended by veterinarians.
  • Avoid bathing, swimming or working in untreated water and avoid drinking untreated water.
  • Avoid handling rabbits, squirrels or other animals that appear sick.
  • Wear rubber gloves when skinning animals, especially rabbits and squirrels; skin animals in a well-ventilated area.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling sick or dead animals.
  • Cook meat thoroughly before eating, especially rabbit and squirrel.

If you have any further questions about tularemia, you can contact Veronica Taylor, CCH Director of Infection Control, Professional Development and Emergency Preparedness, at 307-688-6040 or

Other articles/information on tularemia:

  • Category: CCH News