News Archive

September 13, 2019

Tularemia Found in Rabbit in Lafayette

Boulder County, Colo. - A rabbit found in Lafayette in the 4900 block of 95th Street has tested positive. for tularemia. This is the first animal to test positive for tularemia in Boulder County this year.

Fortunately, no residents came in contact with the infected rabbit. A resident’s dog came in contact with the rabbit, but the owner took appropriate measures to protect themselves when collecting the rabbit.

Public Health officials will be posting warning signs in the area neighborhood to alert residents of the risks of tularemia.

People can become infected with tularemia through the bite of infected insects, most commonly ticks and deer flies, or through skin contact with infected animal tissue. The bacteria can also be inhaled when infected animal tissue is broken into small particles and spread through the air, such as when an infected carcass is mowed over.

Five people have been diagnosed with tularemia in Colorado in 2019. Over the past decade, an average of six people became ill with tularemia per year (not including 2015 when we had an epidemic of 52 cases in the state). Colorado has had three rabbits test positive for tularemia, including this new Boulder County rabbit.

“It’s always important to avoid contact with wild animals because of the risk of many diseases,” said Lane Drager, Boulder County Public Health Consumer Protection Program coordinator. “Although tularemia is rare, it is still a risk, especially considering the number of wild rabbits in our communities.”

Tularemia is caused by the bacteria Francisella tularensis and is typically found in animals, especially rodents, rabbits, and hares.

Symptoms include skin ulcers, swollen and painful lymph glands, inflamed eyes, sore throat, mouth sores, diarrhea, or pneumonia. Symptoms can also include abrupt onset of fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, dry cough, difficulty breathing, bloody sputum, and respiratory failure. Tularemia is treatable when detected in early stages.

Public health officials recommend the following precautions:

  • Stay out of areas inhabited by wild rabbits and rodents. If you must enter areas frequented by wild animals, always wear insect repellent containing DEET.
  • Prevent your pets from hunting or eating wild rodents or rabbits.
  • Avoid all contact with wild rabbits and rodents, including squirrels; do not feed or handle them.
  • Never touch sick or dead animals with your bare hands. If an animal must be moved, place it in a garbage bag using a long-handled shovel, and place the bag in an outdoor garbage can.
  • Do not drink unpurified water from streams or lakes; keep your pets from doing the same.
  • Don’t mow over animal carcasses and consider using a dust mask when doing landscape work.
  • Avoid ticks. The best protection for pets, especially cats, is to keep them indoors. If outdoors with pets, keep them out of heavily wooded areas, which are ideal habitats for ticks.
  • See a health care provider if you become ill with a high fever and/or swollen lymph nodes. Tularemia is a treatable illness when diagnosed early.
  • Contact a veterinarian if your pet becomes ill with a high fever and/or swollen lymph nodes.

For more information about tularemia, visit www.cdc.gov/tularemia or www.boco.org/Tularemia. You can also call Boulder County Public Health at 303-441-1564. To report a rabbit die-off, call 303-441-1564.