Tularemia in Fort Collins – August 25, 2014

At this time, tularemia has been confirmed in 8 local rabbits, mostly in Southeast Fort Collins. Larimer County has also had one confirmed human case of Tularemia this summer and another is currently under investigation.

Please note: Not all animals reported to the Health Department or Animal Control will be picked up and/or tested. Wild animals die every day of many reasons, not just of tularemia.

Please only report a die-off of multiple rabbits (more than one) in an area. Once tularemia has been confirmed in an area, further testing may not be useful and/or necessary.

Current risk: low, but present

The diagnosis of tularemia in eight wild rabbits in Fort Collins has prompted the Health Department to alert residents to take certain precautions. Larimer County residents are advised that tularemia-causing bacteria may be present in some local mammals — especially rabbits and hares. Residents may have noticed a die-off of rabbits in some areas over the summer.

Tularemia in People

Tularemia is a bacterial infection most commonly transmitted to humans that have handled infected animals. Infection can also arise from the bite of infected insects (most commonly ticks and deer flies), by exposure to contaminated food, water, or soil by eating, drinking, or direct contact with breaks in the skin, and less commonly, by inhaling aerosolized particles carrying the bacteria (through mowing or blowing vegetation).

Typical signs of infection in humans are 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 and swollen glands. Eating or drinking food or water containing the bacteria may produce a throat infection, stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting. Tularemia can be effectively treated with antibiotics, so if you should have any of these early signs, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Steps people can take to prevent human tularemia:

  • Stay out of areas where wild rabbits or rodents are present when possible. Never try to feed wildlife.
  • Avoid handling any sick or dead animals (including mammals and birds)
  • Wear an insect repellent effective against ticks, biting flies and mosquitoes if you are in areas where sick animals have been found. Repellents that contain DEET or IR3535 are good choices for humans.
  • Wear shoes and do not go barefoot in an area where rabbits have died. The bacteria can persist in the environment for a month or two, so these precautions should be taken for several weeks.
  • Consider wearing a dust mask when mowing or blowing vegetation in areas where rabbit die-offs have occurred
  • Take steps to prevent your pets from becoming infected
  • If you hunt rabbits, take appropriate precautions when processing them. Precautions include:
  • When handling rabbits, always wear gloves.
  • Wash your hands after touching any animal, especially before you eat.
  • Cook rabbit meat thoroughly (170 degrees).
  • Wear insect repellents that contain DEET.
  • Only drink water from a safe source.
  • To prevent tularemia transmission to your pets, do not feed them raw meat.

Tularemia in Pets

Dogs and cats also get tularemia by eating infected rabbits or other animals, by drinking contaminated surface water, through tick and deer fly bites, and though exposure to contaminated soil if the skin is broken. If your pet shows symptoms of illness which may include fever, loss of appetite, enlarged lymph nodes, ulcers on the mouth and tongue, draining abscesses, nasal and eye discharge, and skin sores, take it to the veterinarian promptly. As in humans, tularemia is easily treated if diagnosed early in dogs and cats.

Steps people can take to prevent tularemia in their pets:

  • Keep animals indoors when possible; this is the best option for cats.
  • Routinely apply flea and tick repellent to any pets that go outdoors. Talk to your veterinarian on which choice is best for your pet and follow label directions carefully.
  • Keep your pets leashed when walking them outdoors and keep them away from dead animals.
  • Contain cats and other pets from wandering in areas where sick or dead animals have been found. Note that sick rabbits and rodents can often enter enclosed yards when pets are kept outdoors.
  • Don't let dogs or cats drink from surface waters (puddles, streams, and ponds) when outdoors.

General information about tularemia »

What to do if you see a dead animal

  • If you suspect an animal might be sick, infectious, or has died of unknown causes, do not touch it!

  • If you find or observe more than one animal (in the same area) that has died or is sick, call the Health Department at (970) 498-6775. On weekends or holidays, call Animal Control for assistance at (970) 226-3647

Note: Not all animals will be picked up and/or tested. Once it is established that tularemia is present in an area, testing more animals is not helpful. If you live in an area where tularemia has been confirmed, follow prevention precautions with your family and your pets.

If you need to remove a dead animal

  • Apply an insect repellent against fleas and ticks prior to proceeding with the removal.
  • Use a shovel and place the body in a plastic bag.
  • If you have noted other dead animals in the area, call the Health Department at (970) 498-6775 or Animal Control at (970) 226-3647 to see if they want to retrieve the animal for testing. Not all animals will be retrieved or tested.
  • If the animal is not needed for testing, dispose of it in an outdoor trash receptacle.
  • Wash your hands immediately.