MONTROSE – The suspected diagnosis of tularemia in wild rabbits in Montrose County, as well as two confirmed cases in domestic cats, has prompted the Montrose County Health and Human Services to remind residents to take certain precautions against the bacterial infection.
Tularemia is a bacterial infection most commonly transmitted to humans that have handled infected animals. Residents are advised that tularemia-causing bacteria is present in some local mammals – especially rabbits and hares. 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, therefore should you have any of these early signs, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Residents are encouraged to take precautions such as staying out of the area where wild rabbits or rodents are present if possible and never feeding wildlife. Additionally, HHS urges residents not to handle sick or dead animals (including mammals and birds). Be sure to wear insect repellent effective against ticks, biting flies and mosquitoes. Residents are advised to wear shoes and do not go barefoot in an area where rabbits have died as the bacteria can persist in the environment for a month or two. Anyone with suspicion that their pet has contracted tularemia should contact a veterinarian.
If residents come in contact with a dead animal that is suspected to be sick, infectious or has died of unknown causes, do not touch it. If there is more than one animal (in the same area) that has died or is sick, call the HHS at 970/252-5000. For more information on tularemia, visit www.cdc.gov/Tularemia