Tularemia is a rare infectious disease that typically attacks the skin, eyes, lymph nodes and lungs. Tularemia also called rabbit fever or deer fly fever is caused by the bacterium Franciscan tularemia. Tularemia is a rare infectious disease that typically attacks the skin, eyes, lymph nodes and lungs. Tularemia also called rabbit fever or deer fly fever is caused by the bacterium Franciscan tularemia.
In ulceroglandular and glandular tularemia, common early signs are high fever, chills, swollen glands, headache and extreme fatigue. A skin ulcer develops at the infection site in the ulceroglandular form. Typhoidal tularemia is characterized by fever, exhaustion and weight loss. The disease mainly affects mammals, especially rodents, rabbits and hares, although it can also infect birds, sheep, and domestic animals, such as dogs, cats and hamster
Symptoms for Tularemia
Most people exposed to tularemia who become sick generally do so within three to five days, although it can take as long as 14 days. Several types of tularemia exist, and which type you get depends on how and where the bacteria enter the body. Each type of tularemia has its own set of symptoms. There are different types of tularemia that each have their own specific symptoms. Additional symptoms may occur depending upon how a person is infected. Infection through skin (e.g., tick bite or handling of infectious matter) may result in an ulcer or rash on the skin at the point of infection and swollen, painful lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy).
1. Glandular. Similar to ulceroglandular tularemia but without an ulcer. Also generally acquired through the bite of an infected tick or deer fly or from handling sick or dead animals.
2. Oculoglandular. This form occurs when the bacteria enter through the eye. This can occur when a person is butchering an infected animal and touches his or her eyes. Symptoms include irritation and inflammation of the eye and swelling of lymph glands in front of the ear.
- Eye irritation
- Eye pain
- Eye swelling
- Discharge or redness of the eye
3. Ulcer glandular tularemia. This is the most common form of the disease. A skin ulcer that forms at the site of infection usually an insect or animal bite.
- Swollen and painful lymph glands
4. Oculoglandular tularemia
The symptoms of oculoglandular tularemia, or infection of the eye, can include:
5. Pneumonic. This is the most serious form of tularemia. Symptoms include cough, chest pain, and difficulty breathing. This form results from breathing dusts or aerosols containing the organism.
6. Typhoidal. This type is a general form of tularemia whose symptoms include fever, joint pain, and malaise. It may be hard to find out how the infection entered the body.
The way that the bacteria enters the body may affect symptoms. They may persist for several weeks. There are several major forms of tularemia, based on the route of transmission.
Causes for Tularemia
Tularemia doesn’t occur naturally in humans and isn’t known to pass from person to person. However, tularemia occurs worldwide, especially in rural areas, because many mammals, birds and insects are infected with F. tularensis. The organism can live for weeks in soil, water and dead animals.
- Insect bites. Although a number of insects carry tularemia, ticks and deer flies are most likely to transmit the disease to humans. Tick bites cause a large percentage of cases of ulcer glandular tularemia.
- Exposure to sick or dead animals. Ulcer glandular tularemia can also result from handling or being bitten by an infected animal, most often a rabbit or hare. Bacteria enter the skin through small cuts and abrasions or a bite, and an ulcer forms at the wound site. The ocular form of tularemia can occur when you rub your eyes after touching an infected animal.
- Airborne bacteria. Bacteria in the soil can become airborne during gardening, construction or other activities that disturb the earth. Inhaling the bacteria can lead to pneumonic tularemia. Laboratory workers who work with tularemia also are at risk of airborne infection. Breathing in bacteria that comes up from the soil during an activity like construction or gardening
- Contaminated food or water. Although uncommon, it’s possible to get tularemia from eating undercooked meat of an infected animal or drinking contaminated water. The signs include vomiting, diarrhea and other digestive problems (oropharyngeal tularemia).
- Being bitten by an infected tick, deerfly or other insect.
- Handling infected animal carcasses.
- Eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
- Breathing in the bacteria, F. tularensis.
- Tularemia may be also transmitted through the air by breathing in (inhalation) of aerosolized bacteria. Common activities including cutting brush or mowing lawns can aerosolize the bacteria from the environment and cause infection in humans.
It can be hard to diagnose tularemia because the symptoms can be similar to other diseases. Your doctor will test you to confirm the bacteria is present. tularemia in a blood or sputum sample that’s cultured to encourage the growth of the bacteria. Sometimes tularemia can be identified by antibodies to the bacteria in a sample of blood, but these only develop several weeks after infection. Your doctor can use a serology test to detect tularemia. This test looks for specific antibodies that your body has created to fight the infection.
Treatment usually involves antibiotics either injected or by mouth. If you have complications like pneumonia or meningitis you’ll also need treatment for these conditions.
Surgical intervention may be required to drain swollen lymph nodes or to cut away infected tissue from a skin ulcer. You may also be given medications for fever or headache symptoms.
You can protect yourself by:
- Not using bare hands to skin or dress wild animals.
- Don’t skin or dress (remove the organs of) any animal that appears to be sick.
- Avoiding sick or dead animals.
- Cook the meat thoroughly.
- Wearing clothing that covers exposed skin.
- Using insect repellents.
- Removing ticks promptly.
- Protect your outdoor pets with flea and tick medicines.
- Drinking clean water.
- Fully cooking wild meats.
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