What Is Tularemia?
Tularemia, also called rabbit fever or deer fly fever, is an infectious disease that can attack your skin, eyes, lymph nodes, and lungs. It’s caused by a bacteria called Francisella tularensis.
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Causes of Tularemia
Though it’s rare, but some people can get sick with tularemia. It’s not a disease that naturally occurs in humans. It often affects rabbits and other animals including sheep, rodents, and birds. House pets like dogs and cats can get tularemia too.
Some ways people can get tularemia includes:
- Contact with skin, meat, hair, of infected animals
- Insect bites especially from a deer fly or tick
- Consuming contaminated food or water
- Inhaling bacteria that comes up from the soil during an activity like construction or gardening
Also, it is possible for a person to get infected if they are exposed to bacteria in a lab. Tularemia is most common in rural settings where animals are more likely to be infected with the bacteria. The bacteria can survive in soil, and dead animals for weeks. The mode of infection determines the type of symptoms you’ll experience.
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Symptoms of Tularemia
If after being exposed to the bacteria you get sick, you’re likely to start experiencing symptoms within 3 to 5 days, but it can take up to 2 weeks. There are different types of tularemia, each have their own specific symptoms.
Ulceroglandular tularemia is the most common variety of the disease. Symptoms can include:
- An ulcer on the skin that’s usually caused by a bite from an infected animal or insect
- Lymph glands that are painful and swollen
Oculoglandular tularemia affects the eyes. Symptoms can include:
- Light sensitivity
- Pain, swelling, or discharge in the eye
- Redness in the eye
- An ulcer that forms inside the eyelid
- Tender lymph glands around the ear, neck, and jaw
Oropharyngeal tularemia affects the throat, mouth, and digestive system. It’s the form of the disease that’s often caused by eating undercooked meat from a wild animal or drinking contaminated water. Symptoms can include:
For Pneumonic tularemia symptoms can be associated with pneumonia such as:
- Dry cough
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
Typhoidal tularemia is a rare, but very serious form of the disease. Symptoms can include:
- High fever
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Severe fatigue
- Enlarged spleen or liver
Who’s at Risk of Developing Tularemia?
People mostly get tularemia most from tick bites or contact with a contaminated animal. The following can also increase your risk for developing tularemia:
- Hunting for wild animals that may be infected
- Gardening may cause bacteria to be released
- Jobs such as laboratory worker, farmer, veterinarian, hunter, landscaper, wildlife manager, and meat handler
- Living in or visiting the south-central United States
Diagnosis and Treatment
The symptoms of tularemia can be similar to other disease, thereby making diagnosis to be difficult. Your doctor will test you to confirm the bacteria is present. Your doctor may also order a chest X-ray to check for signs of tularemia.
READ ALSO: Tick Bites: Everything You Need to Know
To treat tularemia, antibiotics may be administered orally or intravenously. Complications like meningitis or pneumonia may arise. In such cases, you’ll also need treatment for these conditions. Usually people who have had tularemia become immune to it.
You can protect yourself by:
- Avoiding sick or dead animals
- Using insect repellents
- Not using bare hands to skin or dress wild animals
- Wearing clothing that covers exposed skin in a wooded area
- Using insect repellents
- Promptly removing ticks
- Drinking clean water
- Cooking wild meats properly before consuming
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