A bacterial disease caused by infection with a bacterium called Francisella tularensis that usually occurs in wild and domestic animals, most often rabbits, and can be transmitted to humans by contact with animal tissues or ticks and fleas. Also called rabbit fever and deerfly fever.
Hunters and other people who spend much time in the out-of-doors are may be exposed to tularemia from direct contact with an infected animal or carcass or from the bite of an infected flea or tick. Less common means of exposure are from drinking contaminated water or inhaling dust from contaminated soil.
Symptoms appear 2-10 days after exposure. Most often there is a red spot on the skin which enlarges and ulcerates together with enlarged lymph nodes (swollen glands) in the axilla (armpit) or groin. Ingestion of the organism may produce a throat infection, intestinal pain, diarrhea and vomiting. Inhalation of the organism may produce a fever or a pneumonia-like illness.
Treatment is with antibiotics such as streptomycin, tetracycline, gentamycin and tobramycin. Rubber or latex gloves should be worn when skinning or handling animals, especially rabbits. Wild rabbit and rodent meat should be cooked thoroughly before eating. One should try to avoid bites of deer flies and ticks and avoid drinking, bathing, swimming or working in untreated water. A vaccine is recommended for people at highest risk such as hunters, trappers and laboratory workers.
Tularemia is a dangerous disease. It is fatal in about 5% of untreated cases but less than 1% of treated cases.