What is tularemia?
Tularemia is a disease of animals and humans caused by the bacteria Francisella tularensis. Tularemia is naturally occurring in Ontario wildlife populations, especially rabbits, hares, voles, muskrats, beavers, and squirrels and in ticks and small domestic animals such as hamsters, rabbits and mice.
Symptoms of tularemia depend on how a person was infected and range from mild to life-threatening. They can include sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, vomiting, dry cough and difficulty breathing. Other symptoms include skin ulcers, swollen lymph glands, inflamed eyes, sore throat, and diarrhea. The elderly, people with respiratory illness or immune-compromised individuals are most at risk of developing severe illness.
Symptoms typically occur within 3 to 5 days of exposure; however, symptoms can develop as early as 1 day or as long as 14 days following exposure.
Anyone who is experiencing these symptoms after an exposure to wild game or ticks, should contact their health care provider without delay. Confirmed cases are treated with antibiotics.
How does tularemia occur?
Humans can become infected through several routes, including:
- bites or licks of an infected animal
- handling or cleaning the carcass of an infected animal especially the skin or meat
- eating inadequately cooked wild game
- inhalation or exposure beneath the skin to contaminated soil
- drinking contaminated water
- bites of an infected tick or deer fly
Hunters are at higher risk of exposure because of the handling of wild game carcasses. Transmission of tularemia from person to person has not been reported.
How can tularemia be prevented?
Here are some simple measures you can take to protect yourself from tularemia:
- wear non-absorbent gloves when handling wild game
- wash your hands immediately after handling wild game
- cook all wild game thoroughly
- avoid insect bites by using a Health Canada approved insect repellent and be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations
- wear a long sleeved shirt and long pants while hunting or engaging in other outdoor activities
- check your clothing and body for ticks and change your clothing after returning indoors
- only drink water from a safe source