Tularemia also known as rabbit fever, is a serious infectious disease caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. Tularemia occurs throughout North America, Europe, Russia, China and Japan. If you are planning to supplement you’re food storage with hunting you should be aware of the hazards of tularemia. This is a disease you can pickup from various types of wildlife as well as ticks and deer flies. It can also occur in your domestic stock.
Rabbits and other wild rodents are the primary species affected. Tularemia can also affect beaver and muskrats, livestock including pigs, horses, dogs, cats, fish and birds. Sheep are especially susceptible. Cattle rarely get the disease.
Tularemia bacteria can be found in the organs or body fluids of infected animals. The bacteria can live for long periods of time (weeks to months) in soil, vegetation and water and serve as a source of infection for other animals or humans. Animals get tularemia by eating contaminated food (raw meat from infected animals) or drinking contaminated water. They can also be bitten by infected biting flies or ticks.
Some animals can be affect and not show signs of the disease. Illness normally occurs 1-10 days after exposure in animals. Animals may have fever, look tired, be depressed and refuse to eat. Coughing, staggering from weakness, vomiting and diarrhea are all signs. Rabbits and rodents behave strangely, huddle together and have a rough looking coat. Sudden death can occur.
Humans can get tularemia by direct contact with infected animals, inhaling the bacteria, eating contaminated food, drinking contaminated water or from the bite of an infected insect. Signs usually appear 3-5 days after exposure. The most common way humans become infected is through the bite of an infected blood-sucking insect such as a deerfly or tick.
Flu like symptoms, such as fever, chills, nausea, headache and joint pain occur. Glands (or lymph nodes) may become swollen and painful and may break open and drain pus. Other symptoms include skin rash, sore throat, or swelling of the eyes. If the lungs become infected, coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, and severe pneumonia may occur.
Prior to antibiotics the death rate in untreated patients was as high as 50% in the pneumoniac and typhoidal forms of the disease, which however account for less than 10% of cases. The overall death rate was 7% for untreated cases. Currently in treated cases the death rate is about 1%.
The antibiotic of choice for tularemia has historically been streptomycin or tetracycline-class drugs such as doxycycline. Gentamicin may also be used.
There are several steps that you can take to protect yourself from tularemia.
You can avoid it by not hunting wild rabbits until after autumn’s first hard frost; and even then, never handle an animal that behaves unnaturally whether dead or alive,. If you have cuts or open sores on your hands, wear rubber gloves when preparing wild rabbits for the pot if possible.
Since it’s possible to get tularemia from eating undercooked meat of an infected animal or drinking contaminated water cook all wild meat througtly. Accordingto the Mayo Clinic, “Heat kills F. tularensis, so cook meat to the right temperature — a minimum of 160 F (71.1 C) for pork and ground meat and game meat, 145 F (62.8 C) for farm-raised steaks and roasts — to make it safe to eat.” Tularemia is not killed by freezing. Placing raw meat in the freezer will not kill it.
Tick and insect repellents should be used when walking in the outdoors. Make a thorough tick check of yourself and your pets often and upon returning inside. Ticks should be removed from humans and dogs as soon as possible.
Tularemia is nothing to be scared of, humans have lived with it for thousands of years, but a little knowledge can reduce your chances of getting it.