Tularemia is a rare bacterial infection caused by Francisella tularensis. The bacteria naturally infects rodents, rabbits, hares and other wild animals and birds. Humans can become infected with tularemia by touching a sick or dead infected animal, drinking water contaminated by an infected animal, and being bitten by an infected insect (most often ticks). The bacteria may also become airborne if for instance farm or grass mowing machinery runs over an infected dead animal.
People living in or visiting areas with lots of ticks are more at risk. Others at an increased risk include those likely to come into contact with infected animals or soil, such as hunters, farmers, landscapers and gardeners. Tularemia cases occur more often in rural areas. Tularemia cannot be passed from person to person. Worldwide, tularemia can be found in North America, Europe, and northern Asia.
Symptoms of tularemia appear one to fourteen days after infection. The bacteria may enter the human body through the skin, eyes, nose, throat or lungs. Symptoms depend on how the bacteria entered the body but in general may include sudden fever, chills, headaches, diarrhea, muscle and joint pain, dry cough and progressive weakness. Other symptoms may include ulcers on the skin or mouth, swollen and painful lymph glands, swollen and painful eyes, and a sore throat. If pneumonia develops, the person may develop chest pain, a hard cough and have difficulty breathing.
Tularemia can be diagnosed with blood tests while X-rays can be used to check for pneumonia. Tularemia may be fatal if not treated. The correct antibiotic must be used for successful treatment. If you have been diagnosed with tularemia, talk to your doctor about the most current treatment options.