Tularemia is a serious disease of animals and human caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis and is susceptible in humans, rabbits, hares and rodents.

Ticks and deer flies are the primary vectors of tularemia. But it can cause infection through skin contact with infected animals, ingestion of contaminated water, laboratory exposure or inhalation of contaminated dusts or aerosols. Humans can also be exposed in effect of bioterrorism. It is also known as Pahvant Valley plague, rabbit fever, deer fly fever or Ohara’s fever.

Tularemia attacks the skin, eyes, lymph nodes, lungs and other internal organs. It is highly contagious and has a potential to cause death, but it can be treated when diagnosed early.

Tularemia Causes

The bacterium Francisella tularensis can cause serious infection to the human body. The usual sources of infection are:

  • Tick or deer fly bites which transmit tularemia to humans
  • Transmission to humans through the skin when handling infected animal tissue.
  • Inhalation of dust or aerosols contaminated with the bacterium and can occur during farming, landscaping activities or machineries run over animals.

Tularemia Signs and Symptoms

The period of incubation is one to 14 days for tularemia. Usually, human infections become evident after three to five days. Tularemia can cause various symptoms depending upon the route of infection. It can range from mild to life-threatening. It has sic characteristic clinical symptoms:

  • Ulceroglandular is the most common form of tularemia. A skin ulcer develops following a tick or deer fly bite. It is accompanied by inflammation of regional lymph nodes in the armpit or groin. It can also cause fever, chills, and exhaustion.
  • Glandular is similar to ulceroglandular but it has no ulcer. It is through a tick or deer fly bite or from handling sick or dead animals.
  • Oropharyngeal is manifested through eating and drinking contaminated food or water. They may suffer sore throat, mouth ulcers, tonsillitis, vomiting, diarrhea and swelling of lymph nodes in the neck
  • Pneumonic is the most serious form of tularemia which is manifested through cough, chest pain and difficulty of breathing.
  • Oculoglandular occurs when the bacteria enters through the eye. Symptoms include eye inflammation, eye pain and swelling of lymph nodes near the ear.
  • Typhoidal are rare and serious and causes high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, extreme exhaustion, enlarged spleen and liver and pneumonia.

Tularemia Tests and Diagnosis

Since tularemia is difficult to diagnose, you may want to share symptoms you are experiencing and any exposure you had. Blood tests and cultures can be performed to help confirm the diagnosis. Sputum sample can also be tested for the presence of F. tularensis.

Tularemia Treatment

The most common drug treatment for tularemia includes, streptomycin, gentamicin, doxycycline, and ciprofloxacin. The treatment may last from 10 to 21 days depending on the stage of illness. You may also have treatment for the complications like meningitis or pneumonia.

Tularemia Complications

If tularemia is left untreated it may lead to different complications or even death. Possible complications include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Meningitis
  • Pericarditis or irritation around the heart
  • Osteomyelitis or bone infection

Tularemia Prevention

There are steps to prevent tularemia especially when you are in a place infected with it.

  • Use insect repellent
  • When handling sick or dead animals, wear gloves
  • Avoid mowing over dead animals
  • During camping, wear long pants, long sleeves and long socks
  • Do not drink untreated surface water
  • Use dust masks to reduce risk of inhaling bacteria
  • Cook meat thoroughly before eating
  • Check your clothing or skin for ticks
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