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Diseases & Topics

Tularemia

Tularemia is a naturally occurring disease of animals and humans caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. Rabbits, hares, and rodents are especially susceptible to the disease and often die in large numbers during outbreaks. Humans can become infected through several routes, including tick and deer fly bites, skin contact with infected animals, ingesting contaminated water, inhaling contaminated dusts or aerosols, or from laboratory exposures. Humans could also be exposed as a result of bioterrorism.

Tularemia occurs throughout much of North America and Eurasia. In the U.S., human cases have been reported from every state except Hawaii, with the majority occurring in south-central and western states. The few cases in North Carolina have been associated with rabbit hunting and cat bites.

Symptoms vary depending upon the route of infection and range from localized infection of the skin, eyes or throat to life-threatening pneumonia or septicemia (bacteria in the bloodstream). However, most tularemia infections can be treated successfully with antibiotics.

To prevent tularemia:

  • Use insect repellent;
  • Wear gloves when handling sick or dead animals and wash hands well with soap and water afterward;
  • Cook game meat thoroughly before eating; and
  • Use a dust mask (respirator) when mowing lawns or shoveling hay.

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