One Health and Disease: Tularemia

Tularemia

Tularemia is a bacterial disease that often affects wildlife, most often causing die-offs of rabbits, beavers, and small rodents. Tularemia can also spread to humans and can cause serious clinical symptoms in humans and animals. People can help prevent infection by using insect repellent, washing hands, giving wildlife their space, and only drinking treated water.

A tiny tick on a person's thumb
Ticks are a major reservoir for tularemia.

NPS Photo.

General Tularemia Information

Geographic Distribution

Infections have been reported in all US states, except Hawaii.

Hosts

The major reservoirs for tularemia are:

  • Ticks
  • Biting flies
  • Small mammals (e.g., mice, voles)

Infected animals and animal carcasses can also serve as reservoirs for the disease.

Certain animals are particularly susceptible to the bacteria and can experience die-offs when the population becomes infected, such as:

  • Rabbits
  • Beavers
  • Muskrats
  • Other small rodents

Transmission

Humans can become infected with tularemia several different ways:

  • From the bite of an infected insect
  • Contact with infected animals or carcasses
  • Eating or drinking contaminated food or water
  • Inhaling contaminated dusts or aerosols, particularly from landscaping activities such as moving over a carcass or working in the dirt.

Animals and insects become infected with tularemia through bites of infected insects and ticks, and contact with other infected animals.

Signs and Symptoms

Human symptoms of tularemia can include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Headaches and muscle aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Joint pain
  • Dry cough
  • Open sore and swelling at the site of a tick bite or swelling lymph nodes
  • Sore throat
  • Pneumonia

Humans infected with tularemia usually see symptoms 3 to 5 days after exposure to the bacterium but it can take as long as 14 days. Tularemia symptoms in animals include lethargy, in-coordination and sudden death.

Prevention and Control

To lower your risk of tularemia while visiting the parks:

  • Use insect repellent containing DEET
  • Treat clothing and gear with repellent containing permethrin
  • Wash your hands often, and never touch a dead animal
  • Only drink boiled or properly treated water

Report sick or dead animals to park staff.

Testing and Treatment

If you have the symptoms of tularemia, promptly seek medical care.

Most cases of tularemia can be treated successfully with antibiotics. If not treated with appropriate antibiotics, the disease can rarely be fatal.

Official logo of the One Health program

NPS Graphic.

One Health and Tularemia

Although tularemia is a native disease that circulates naturally, human impacts on the environment can affect wildlife habitats and promote the transmission and spread of many zoonotic diseases.

By protecting natural environments and their ecological properties and processes, and by appreciating wildlife from a distance, we can help protect ourselves from tularemia – this is One Health in action.

Contact

Biological Resources Division and Office of Public Health
1201 Oakridge Drive, Suite 200
Fort Collins, CO 80525

e-mail us

Related Links

For more information from the Center for Disease Control, visit their website, here.

Learn more about the One Health concept and in practice, here.

Learn more about the Biological Resources Division by exploring their organization page, here.