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Home News New Mexico Department of Health Warns Residents about Tularemia
David Morgan
575-528-5197 Office
575-649-0754 Mobile

New Mexico Department of Health Warns Residents about Tularemia

July 13, 2015 - Zoonotic Diseases - Alert

The New Mexico Department of Health announced today a laboratory confirmed case of tularemia in a 51-year-old man from Los Alamos County. The case was confirmed at the Department’s Scientific Laboratory Division. The man was hospitalized but has recovered and gone home. There have also been 33 cases of tularemia this year in pet dogs and cats from Bernalillo, Los Alamos, Santa Fe, Taos, and Torrance Counties.

“Tularemia can cause serious illness in both people and pets.  I encourage people around the state to follow the same precautions they would to avoid contracting plague, which includes not handling sick or dead animals,” said Department of Health Cabinet Secretary, Retta Ward, MPH. “People can get tularemia if they handle infected animals such as rabbits or rodents or if they are bitten by infected ticks or deer flies.”

Tularemia is a potentially serious illness in people that occurs in many parts of the United States. It is caused by a bacteria found in animals, especially rodents, rabbits and hares. Tularemia can also make dogs and cats sick and they can give the disease to people. Other possible, but much less likely, exposures are through contact with infected soil or water or by inhaling the bacteria.

Symptoms of tularemia in people usually develop 3 to 5 days after exposure but onset can vary from 1 to 14 days. Tularemia symptoms are similar to plague infection including sudden fever, chills, headaches, diarrhea, muscles aches and joint pain. Other symptoms of tularemia depend on how a person was exposed to the tularemia bacteria and can include pneumonia and chest pain, ulcers on the skin or mouth, swollen and painful lymph glands, swollen and painful eyes, and a sore throat.

“Many areas of the state have seen a large increase in the rabbit population this year and a lot of them have been getting sick and dying from tularemia,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, the Department of Health’s public health veterinarian.  “Oftentimes when there is a rabbit or rodent die off in an area due to tularemia, deer flies or ticks can become infected from these animals and then pass it on to pets or people when they bite them.”

To avoid exposure to tularemia:

  • Wear gloves while gardening or landscaping, and wash your hands after these activities.
  • Avoid mowing over dead animals when cutting the grass, etc. as this can potentially aerosolize the bacteria.
  • Do not go barefoot while gardening, mowing or landscaping.
  • Dispose of animal carcasses by using a long-handled shovel and either bury them 2-3 feet deep (if allowed) or double bag them in garbage bags and dispose in the trash.
  • Wear an insect repellent effective against ticks, biting flies and mosquitoes when hiking, camping or working outdoors. Effective repellants include: DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535.
  • Do not drink unpurified water from streams or lakes or allow your pets to drink surface waters.
  • Prevent pets from hunting or eating wild animals. Contact a veterinarian if your pet becomes ill with a high fever and/or swollen lymph nodes.

In 2014 there were 5 human cases of tularemia in New Mexico, a 65-year-old woman from Bernalillo County, a 78-year-old man and a 70-year-old woman both from San Juan County, a 66-year-old man from Lincoln County and a 69-year-old woman from Sandoval County. All 5 human cases were hospitalized and all recovered.

For more information about tularemia visit the Tularemia page on the CDC website.

Media Contact

We would be happy to provide additional information about this press release. Simply contact David Morgan at 575-528-5197 (Office) or 575-649-0754 (Mobile) with your questions.

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El Departamento de Salud de Nuevo México Advierte a los Residentes sobre la Tularemia