KEY POINTS

  • Nearly 200 cases of tularemia (rabbit fever) reported in the U.S. every year
  • Wyoming rabbit has tested positive for Francisella tularensis
  • Health officials urge the public to take precautionary measures

A rare infectious disease that affects animals like rabbits and hares has been spotted in a Wyoming town. The disease, which affects about 200 humans in the United States every year, has a mortality rate of 5% to 15%.

A rabbit found in the town of Hillsdale has recently tested positive for tularemia (rabbit fever or deer fly fever) that affects the eyes, skin, lungs and lymph nodes, reported Wyoming News Now.

Most of the rabbit fever cases are reported from rural areas in the western and south-central states. The disease is caused by Francisella tularensis bacteria which affects mammals. There is no vaccine for this disease.

Symptoms of tularemia include fever, chills, skin ulcers, swollen or painful lymph nodes, sore throat, inflamed eyes, headaches, joint pains, muscle aches, and breathing difficulties. The bacteria that cause tularemia can stay alive in water and soil for several weeks.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tularemia can easily be transmitted among human beings and can result in high mortality rates. It also has the potential for major public health impact and can lead to social disruption.

People get infected through the bites of ticks and deer flies, handling of infected animals, inhaling infected aerosols, or via contaminated food or water, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

Health authorities have advised the the public to refrain from having close contact with wild animals due to the possibility of contracting diseases like plague and tularemia which still remain a human health risk, given the number of wild rabbits and rodents in rural Wyoming.

The Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department recommended the following to prevent tularemia:

  • Avoid areas inhibited by wild rodents, rabbits and hares. And if at all you must enter these areas, always wear insect repellents that contain DEET
  • See to that your pets do not hunt or eat wild rabbits or rodents
  • Do not feed or handle wild rabbits and rodents including squirrels
  • Refrain from handling sick or dead animals with your bare hands. If at all one needs to be moved, place it in a garbage bag using a long-handled shovel
  • Protect yourself and your pet animals from ticks
  • Contact a health care provider at the earliest if you fall ill with a high fever and swollen lymph nodes at the earliest.

rabbits A case of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus Serotype 2 (RHDV2) has been confirmed on a black-tailed jackrabbit carcass found near Palm Spring in early May. Photo: Getty Images/Joe Raedle