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Kenny Vigil
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New Cases of Tularemia

August 13, 2015 - Zoonotic Diseases - Disease

3 human cases in Bernalillo County most likely from deer fly bites.

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 confirmed case of tularemia in a 71-year-old man from Bernalillo County. The case was confirmed at the Department’s Scientific Laboratory Division. Two earlier cases of tularemia were reported in a 39-year-old man and a 42-year-old woman from Bernalillo County. They have also recovered. The Department suspects the three individuals in Bernalillo County contracted Tularemia through deer fly bites.

Three other cases in the state occurred in a 35-year-old woman from Sandoval County, a 59-year-old woman from San Juan County who was bitten by her infected cat, and a 51-year-old man from Los Alamos County. These individuals were hospitalized but have recovered. There have also been 43 cases of tularemia this year in dogs and cats, with pets from Bernalillo, Los Alamos, Santa Fe, Taos, and Torrance 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. “People can get tularemia if they handle infected animals such as rabbits or rodents or 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 three to five days after exposure but onset can vary from one 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.

“The rabbit population has increased dramatically in many areas of the state this summer due to abundant rainfall and vegetation, 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. “This has led to an increase in both human and pet cases of tularemia with various types of exposures, including bites from infected insects, bites from infected cats, handling of infected rabbit carcasses, etc.”

“The City of Albuquerque maintains a surveillance program for tularemia in wild animals,” said Dr. Paul Smith, Manager of the Albuquerque Environmental Health Department Urban Biology Division. “We encourage people to report dead animals that have not died from obvious trauma by calling 311 so that we can collect them for testing.”

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 individuals were hospitalized and recovered.

For more information, visit the Tularemia web page.


To Avoid Exposure to Tularemia

  • Wear gloves while gardening or landscaping, and wash your hands after these activities.
  • Avoid mowing over dead animals, such as when cutting the grass, 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 throw them 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.

To Help Prevent Deer Fly Bites

  • Deer flies are out on warm sunny days and are attracted to dark colors that are moving so wear light colored clothing.
  • Deer flies are known for going after the head and scalp to bite so wear a hat or baseball cap.
  • Wearing long sleeve shirts and long pants with tapered fitting cuffs keeps deer flies from being able to bite your ankles or legs.
  • Use an insect repellent effective against deer flies, applying it to all exposed areas of skin including your face and neck. Use care not to get it in your eyes.

Media Contact

We would be happy to provide additional information about this press release. Simply contact Kenny Vigil at 505-841-5871 (Office) or 505-470-2290 (Mobile) with your questions.


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Nuevos Casos de Tularemia