Tularemia is a rare infectious disease that targets the skin, eyes, lymph nodes, lungs and, less often, other internal organs. It is often called as rabbit fever or deer fly fever tularemia is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis.
The disease mainly affects mammals, especially rodents, rabbits and hares, although it can also infect birds, reptiles and fish.
Tularemia spreads to humans through several ways, including insect bites and direct exposure to an infected animal. Generally tularemia can be treated effectively with specific antibiotics if diagnosed early.
Causes of Tularemia
Naturally, tularemia doesn't occur in humans and isn't known to pass from person to person. Tularemia happens worldwide especially in rural areas because many mammals, birds, insects and fish are infected with F. tularensis. The organism has the ability to live for weeks in soil, water and dead animals.
Dissimilar to some infectious diseases that get transmitted from animals to people through a single route, tularemia has several modes of transmission. How you get the disease, usually describes the type and severity of symptoms. In general, you can get tularemia through:
- Insect bites – However, a number of insects carry tularemia, ticks and deer flies are most likely to transmit the disease to humans. Tick bites are the main cause for a large number of cases of ulceroglandular tularemia.
- Contact with sick or dead animals - Ulceroglandular tularemia can be resulted from handling or being bitten by an infected animal, mostly a rabbit or hare. Bacteria enter the skin through tiny cuts and abrasions or a bite, and an ulcer forms at the wound site. The eye form of tularemia can happen when you rub your eyes after touching an infected animal.
- Airborne bacteria - Bacteria which are present in the soil can become airborne at the time of gardening, construction or other activities that disturb the earth. The intake of the bacteria by inhaling can lead to pneumonic tularemia. Laboratory workers who work with tularemia also are at risk of airborne infection.
- Infected food or water - However uncommon, it is possible to have tularemia from eating undercooked meat of an infected animal or drinking dirty water. Some of the signs include vomiting, diarrhea and other digestive problems (oropharyngeal tularemia). Heat kills F. tularensis, so cook meat to the right temperature to make it safe to eat.
Treatment for Tularemia
Antibiotics like streptomycin or gentamicin, can be given to the patient by injecting directly into a muscle or vein. Doctors may prescribe oral antibiotics like doxycycline (Oracea, Vibramycin, others) depending on the type of tularemia being treated.
You'll also receive therapy for any complications like meningitis or pneumonia. Generally, you should make yourself immune against tularemia after recovering from the disease, but some people may experience a recurrence or reinfection.