Tularemia found in Cottontail Rabbit near Newcastle
by Wyoming Game & Fish Department
July 18, 2006
Tularemia, a bacterial disease of wildlife occasionally inflicting humans, has been diagnosed in a cottontail rabbit near Newcastle by the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory July 17. (Newcastle is located in northeast Wyoming near the South Dakota border, approximately 70 miles southeast of Gillette.)
Dr. Cynthia Tate, veterinarian for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department says the disease is not uncommon in rodents and rabbits and occasionally spills over into other host species, including humans.
"It is a disease that occurs almost every year somewhere in Wyoming, so it is something that locals should be aware of, but not alarmed about," she says of the disease which humans can potentially get by handling infected rabbits or squirrels or possibly by being bit by a tick or fly.
Relatively rare, the Wyoming Department of Health reported only two human cases in 2005, tularemia causes localized skin ulcers and swelling of adjacent lymph nodes with fever, aches, nausea and other flu-like symptoms in humans. Less common forms can cause pneumonia, gastrointestinal tract infections or system-wide infections. Tularemia is treated with a range of antibiotics.
Dr. Tracy Murphy, state epidemiologist for the Wyoming Department of Health, recommends the following precautions to reduce the risk of tularemia infection:
- Use insect repellent and wear protective clothing to avoid bites from flies, ticks and mosquitoes.
- Cook game meat thoroughly.
- Avoid bathing, swimming, working in or drinking untreated water where tularemia has been documented.
- Don't handle animals that appear sick and call the local animal control office or Game and Fish.
- If forced to handle sick or dead animals, wear rubber gloves and wash hands.
- Wear rubber gloves when cleaning game.
- Take ill pets to a veterinarian.
- Instruct children not to handle sick or dead animals.
Newcastle Game Warden Dustin Shorma reports the rabbit testing positive was one of more than 17 discovered dead in the area in the last two weeks. Like most other wildlife diseases, tularemia is more likely to occur during periods of high populations, which cottontail rabbits are experiencing now.