Tularemia diagnosed in Weld County resident

Staff reports


» Avoid all contact with wild animals such as squirrels and rabbits; do not feed or handle them. If a dead animal must be moved, place it in a garbage bag using a long-handled shovel, and place the bag in an outdoor garbage can.

» Do not wear sandals or walk barefoot in an area where animals have been seen sick or dead. The tularemia bacteria can persist in the environment, such as soil and water, for weeks to months.

» Stay out of areas inhabited by wild animals or rodents. If you must enter areas frequented by wild animals, always wear a repellent that is effective against ticks, biting flies, and mosquitoes and that contains DEET or oil of lemon eucalyptus.

» Do not mow over animal carcasses, and consider using a dust mask when mowing.

» Prevent pets from hunting or eating wild rodents or rabbits. Infected pets, such as cats, may transmit the disease to people. Contact a veterinarian if a pet becomes ill.

Source: Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment

A Weld County resident living southeast of Erie was diagnosed with tularemia last week.

The resident was hospitalized with a high fever, loss of appetite and acute diarrhea and is now recovering at home.

“This is the first human case of tularemia in Weld County this year,” said Cheryl Darnell, lab manager for the Weld County Health Department.

A Larimer County man was hospitalized in August for tularemia, which health officials believe he may have been exposed to after mowing a property northwest of Windsor.

Additionally, a field mouse in northwest Johnstown and a rabbit southeast of Berthoud recently tested positive for tularemia. Twenty-one animals have tested positive for tularemia in Colorado so far this year, including 17 rabbits, 3 mice and 1 cat.

Public health departments along the Front Range have received numerous reports of rabbit and mouse die-offs, and are responding with postings and news releases to alert the public.

“We are seeing more than three times the usual number of human tularemia cases along the Front Range this year, so the public really needs to be cautious about not getting exposed to this disease,” said Darnell.

Weld County Public Health officials are posting warning signs in affected areas to alert residents of the risks of tularemia and how to avoid exposure.

In most of the Colorado tularemia cases, people were exposed to the disease while participating in outdoor activities such as mowing or recreating in areas where sick or dead wildlife were present.

People become infected with tularemia through skin contact with infected animal tissue or contaminated soil or water, or from bites of infected arthropods, most commonly ticks and deer flies. The bacteria can also be inhaled when infected animal tissue is broken up into small particles and spread in the air, such as when an infected carcass is mowed over.

Symptoms of tularemia can include abrupt onset of fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, dry cough, difficulty breathing, bloody sputum and respiratory failure. Other symptoms can include skin ulcers, swollen and painful lymph glands, inflamed eyes, sore throat, mouth sores, diarrhea or pneumonia.

Tularemia is often overlooked as a diagnosis because it is rare, and the symptoms are similar to other diseases. Tularemia is treatable with antibiotics.

Public health officials recommend that anyone who becomes ill after exposure to a sick or dead animal, or after spending time outdoors in areas where sick or dying wild animals have been seen, to consult their health care provider about the possibility of tularemia.

For questions about tularemia in Weld County, call Darnell at (970) 304-6415, extension 2270.