Larimer County Department of Health: Tularemia-causing bacteria found in wild rabbits

The confirmed diagnosis of Tularemia in four wild rabbits in Fort Collins, as well as a confirmed human case in Broomfield, has prompted the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment to remind residents to take certain precautions against the bacterial infection.

Residents are advised that tularemia-causing bacteria is present in some local mammals — especially rabbits and hares. Larimer County residents have noticed a die-off of rabbits in some areas over the past few weeks.

Tularemia is a bacterial infection most commonly transmitted to humans that have handled infected animals. Infection can also arise from the bite of infected insects (most commonly ticks and deer flies), by exposure to contaminated food, water, or soil by eating, drinking, or direct contact with breaks in the skin, and less commonly, by inhaling aerosolized particles carrying the bacteria (through mowing or blowing vegetation).

Typical signs of infection in humans are fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, chest pain, and coughing. 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 pain, diarrhea and vomiting. Tularemia can be effectively treated with antibiotics, therefore should you have any of these early signs, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

What to do if you see a dead animal:
• If you suspect an animal might be sick, infectious, or has died of unknown causes, DO NOT TOUCH IT!
• If you find or observe more than one animal (in the same area) that has died or is sick, call the Health Department at 970-498-6775. On weekends or holidays, Call Animal Control for assistance. 970-226-3647
• NOT ALL ANIMALS will be picked up and/or tested. Once it is established that tularemia is present in an area, testing more animals is not helpful. If you live in an area where Tularemia has been confirmed, follow prevention precautions with your family and your pets.

Steps people can take to prevent human tularemia:
• Stay out of areas where wild rabbits or rodents are present when possible. Never try to feed wildlife.
• Avoid handling any sick or dead animals (including mammals and birds).
• Wear an insect repellent effective against ticks, biting flies and mosquitoes if you are in areas where sick animals have been found. Repellents that contain DEET are a good choice for humans.
• Wear shoes and do not go barefoot in an area where rabbits have died. The bacteria can persist in the environment for a month or two, so these precautions should be taken for several weeks.
• Consider wearing a dust mask when mowing or blowing vegetation in areas where rabbit die-offs have occurred.
• Take steps to prevent your pets from becoming infected. They can infect you.

If you need to remove a dead animal:
• Apply an insect repellent against fleas and ticks prior to proceeding with the removal.
• Use a shovel and place the body in a plastic bag.
• If you have noted other dead animals in the area, call the Health Dept.(970-498-6775) or Animal Control (970-226-3647) to see if they want to retrieve the animal for testing. Not all animals will be retrieved or tested.
• If the animal is not needed for testing, dispose of it in an outdoor trash receptacle.
• Wash your hands immediately.

Tularemia vs. Plague

• Plague is also found in Colorado and has caused die-offs of prairie dogs, ground squirrels, and other animals, including rabbits and occasionally tree squirrels.
• Pets (generally cats) can contract plague by hunting and consuming plague-infected animals.
• Plague-infected fleas from dead animals can transmit plague to humans and pet animals. Tularemia is spread by ticks and biting flies.

For more information on Tularemia, visit

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