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Home News Warning Residents about Tularemia
David Morgan
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Warning Residents about Tularemia

July 10, 2014 - Zoonotic Diseases - Disease

65 year-old Bernalillo County woman first human case of 2014

A disease of animals and humans caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. Rabbits, hares, and rodents are especially susceptible and often die in large numbers during outbreaks.

The New Mexico Department of Health announced today a laboratory confirmed case of tularemia in a 65 year-old woman from Bernalillo County. The cause of the woman’s illness was confirmed at the Department’s Scientific Laboratory Division. The woman was hospitalized but has recovered and gone home.

“We are following up with a case investigation this week in an effort to prevent future infections,” says Dr. Paul Smith, Urban Biology Division manager for the City of Albuquerque’s Environmental Health Department.

There have also been 7 pet cases of tularemia this year, 4 dogs and 3 cats from Santa Fe, Bernalillo, and Los Alamos counties.

“Tularemia can cause serious illness in both people and pets so I would encourage people around the state to follow precautions similar to reducing risk to plague,” said Department of Health Cabinet Secretary, Retta Ward, MPH. “Don’t handle sick or dead rodents, don’t allow pets to roam and hunt, get an appropriate tick and flea control product for pets, and take sick pets to a veterinarian. Since tularemia can be fatal in a small percentage of cases, it should be treated with antibiotics following an evaluation by a physician.”

Tularemia 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. 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 now some of those rabbits are getting sick and dying from both tularemia and plague,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, the Department of Health’s public health veterinarian. “Often times there is a rabbit or rodent die off in an area due to tularemia and deer flies or ticks can become infected from these animals and then pass it on to pets or people when they bite them.”

People can get tularemia in different ways: handling infected animal carcasses; being bitten by an infected tick, deerfly or other insect; eating or drinking contaminated food or water or by breathing in the bacteria. Dogs and cats are usually exposed to tularemia when they are allowed to roam and hunt sick rodents and rabbits or when bitten by an infected tick.

In 2013 there were 4 human cases of tularemia identified in New Mexico, a 45-year-old man from Santa Fe County, an 88-year-old woman from McKinley County, a 62-year-old woman from Santa Fe County and a 75-year-old woman from San Juan County. Three of the human cases were hospitalized and all recovered.

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

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