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Guidance for Personnel Working with Rabbits and Wild Rodents at Texas A&M University-Kingsville

What is tularemia?

Tularemia is a disease caused by the bacteria Francisella tularensis, which can affect animals and humans. This highly infectious disease is particularly associated with rabbits, but is also carried by rodents, deer, pets, and many other animals. Those whose occupations put them into frequent contact with these animals, particularly wild animals, are at the greatest risk for contracting tularemia.

How is tularemia spread?

There are two common ways that humans can contract tularemia:

  • From the bite of an infected tick, deerfly, or mosquito.
  • When blood or tissue from infected animals (especially rabbits) comes into contact with the eyes, mouth, or cuts or scratches on the skin.

It is also possible to contract tularemia by drinking contaminated water or breathing dust that contains the bacteria. Person to person transmission does not occur.

Who is at risk for infection?

Anyone can get tularemia if they spend time outdoors in areas where infected animals, deerflies, or ticks can be found. Rabbit hunters, trappers, and laboratory workers who work closely with rabbits are at higher risk.

Is tularemia infection serious?

Without treatment, tularemia lasts for 2-3 weeks with a prolonged convalescence. Antibiotics are used in treatment to eliminate the infectious bacteria. If you suspect that you have been infected, seek care from a medical professional immediately.

How can I protect myself?

  1. Face masks, gowns, and rubber gloves should be worn by those working when handling animals and by those working with cultures or infective material in a laboratory.
  2. If doing field work and handling wild animals, insect repellent containing 20-30% DEET, long pants and long sleeved clothes should be used.
  3. Thoroughly wash hands after handling animals.
  4. Sanitize lab/surgical areas after animal work.
  5. Use disposable supplies whenever possible.

What are the signs of tularemia infection?

Symptoms of tularemia generally appear within 1 to 14 days, but usually within 3 to 5 days. The flu-like symptoms of fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches, chest pain, and coughing are the usual symptoms of tularemia. However, more specific symptoms depend on how the bacteria enter the body. 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 and/or intestinal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. Breathing dust containing the bacteria may cause a pneumonia-like illness.

 What do I do if an exposure or injury occurs?

Exposure to aerosols, bites or scratches involving animals or injuries from objects contaminated with body fluids from animals require immediate first aid and medical attention. Notify your supervisor! Then, contact the University Police Department at 593-2611 or dial 911.

This page was last updated on: October 9, 2015