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WDH Notes Unexpected Rise in Tularemia Reports

Rabbit

A sharp increase in tularemia cases reported so far this year over what’s typical for the state is concerning officials at the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) because the illness can be potentially life-threatening.

To date, WDH has been notified so far of eight confirmed and suspected cases of tularemia from Sheridan, Campbell and Fremont counties. “Wyoming typically only sees two cases a year. Having eight reports this early in the summer is alarming so we wanted to let people know about the increase,” said Clay Van Houten, Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit manager with WDH. “This isn’t an illness with huge numbers, but it can be quite serious for the people who get sick.”

Van Houten said the department can’t offer a definite reason for this year’s increase, but acknowledged weather conditions could be involved.

Tularemia, also known as “rabbit fever,” is a bacterial illness that frequently affects rabbits, hares and rodents, and has been associated with rabbit and rodent die-offs. 

Tularemia can spread to humans in a variety of ways:

  1. Skin contact with infected animals, particularly rabbits, hares and rodents
  2. The bite of an infected tick
  3. The bite of an infected deer fly
  4. Drinking contaminated water
  5. Breathing in contaminated dust particles
  6. Mowing and brush-cutting in areas with deceased animals

Prevent tularemia by avoiding tick and deer fly bites, not drinking untreated surface water, wearing gloves when handling sick or dead animals and avoiding mowing over dead animals. 

The symptoms of tularemia can vary depending on how someone was exposed to the bacteria. They can include fever, swollen eyes, a skin ulcer, swollen lymph nodes, muscle pain, cough, chest pain and pneumonia. 

While tularemia can be treated with antibiotics, if it’s left untreated, infections can be serious and sometimes life-threatening.

“Because tularemia symptoms can be mistaken for other, more common infections, it is important to let your healthcare provider know if you have had any potential tularemia exposures,” Van Houten said.

More information about tularemia can be found at

https://health.wyo.gov/publichealth/infectious-disease-epidemiology-unit/disease/tularemia/.