What is tularemia?

Tularemia is an illness caused by a bacterium, Francisella tularensis, which can affect both animals and humans.

How is tularemia spread?

  • The most common way tularemia is spread is by the bite of an infected blood-sucking insect such as a deerfly or tick.
  • Another way people become infected with tularemia is by getting blood or tissue from infected animals (especially rabbits) in their eyes, mouth, or in cuts or scratches on the skin.
  • Tularemia can also be spread by handling or eating rabbit meat that is not cooked thoroughly.
  • Drinking contaminated water or breathing dust containing the bacteria can cause a tularemia infection.
  • Person to person spread does not occur.
  • In a biological attack, tularemia would be spread through an aerosol release of the bacteria.

What are the symptoms of tularemia?

The usual symptoms are:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing

Infected with tularemia by the bite of an infected insect or from bacteria entering a cut or scratch may cause:

  • Skin ulcer
  • Swollen glands

Eating or drinking food or water containing the bacteria may cause:

  • Sore throat
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Breathing dust containing the bacteria may cause a pneumonia-like illness.

Is there a treatment for tularemia?

Doctors can prescribe antibiotics for tularemia. To be effective, treatment should be started early. If left untreated, the disease can be fatal.

How can I or my family avoid getting tularemia?

  • Use insect repellents that contain DEET, picaridin or IR3535.
  • Wear long pants, long sleeves and long socks to prevent tick bites.
  • Do not swallow untreated river or pond water.
  • If you hunt, trap or skin animals, wear gloves when touching them, especially rabbits, muskrats, prairie dogs, or other rodents.
  • Cook all game meat thoroughly before eating.

Is there a vaccine for tularemia?

A tularemia vaccine is currently under investigation, but is not available to the general public.

Tularemia and Bioterrorism

F. tularensis is on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list of possible bioterrorism agents.

Should I buy a gas mask?

Purchasing a gas mask is not currently recommended for the following reasons:

  • If an attack occurs, the types of agents and concentrations are unknown and therefore it is almost impossible to accurately select a mask.
  • Gas masks may reduce, but do not eliminate exposure to chemical or biological agents. They do not eliminate the risk of infection.
  • There may be no obvious warning in the event of a biological or chemical attack, so you would not be able to determine when to put the mask on.
  • Gas masks may help protect your lungs, however, some chemical agents may be absorbed through the skin or eyes.
  • Negative pressure masks can be dangerous for children or people with respiratory problems.

Should I have my own supply of antibiotics?

There is currently no justification for stockpiling antibiotics. Antibiotics could cause side effects and should only be taken with medical supervision.

There are a number of different germs a bioterrorist might use to carry out an attack. Many antibiotics are effective for a variety of diseases, but there isn’t one antibiotic that is effective against all diseases.

Thus, no single pill can protect against all types of biological weapon attacks. Keeping a supply of antibiotics on hand poses other problems because the antibiotics have a limited “shelf life” before they lose their strength.

How can I protect my family or myself?

Local, state and federal government agencies have been active in preparing responses to chemical, biological and nuclear threats.

In the event of a credible tularemia threat, appropriate measures will be taken to protect the health of the public. Individuals are strongly cautioned against stockpiling antibiotics or self-medicating in order to prevent tularemia.

Where can I get more information?

Contact your physician or the Southern Nevada Health District, Office of Epidemiology at (702) 759-1300.

Additional information about tularemia can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website at www.cdc.gov.

Contact Information

(702) 759-1000

Updated on: September 25, 2018

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