Tularemia Fact Sheet

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  • Caused by Francisella tularensis, a bacterium.
  • People can get infected from the bite of a tick or deer fly; while handling carcasses of infected animals (e.g., during skinning or dressing); by drinking contaminated water; by handling or eating undercooked meats of infected animals; and by breathing in dust from infected soil, grain or hay.
  • In Maryland, the ticks that transmit tularemia are the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) and the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum).
  • You cannot catch tularemia from another person.

Recognize the symptoms

  • Depending on how the bacterium enters the body, tularemia can present in many forms.
  • All forms are accompanied by fever which can be as high as 104 °F.
  • Other symptoms that may occur include chills, headaches, muscle aches, joint pain, dry cough, and progressive weakness.
  • The severity of tularemia ranges from mild to life-threatening.
  • The forms of tularemia include:
  • Ulceroglandular tularemia can occur following a tick or deer fly bite or after handling an infected animal.  A skin ulcer appears at the site where the organism entered the body and is accompanied by swelling of regional lymph glands.
  • Glandular tularemia is acquired through the bite of an infected tick or deer fly or from handling sick or dead animals; there is swelling of lymph glands but no ulcer.
  • Oculoglandular tularemia occurs when the bacteria enter through the eye, such as when a person butchers an infected animal and touches his or her eyes.  Symptoms include irritation and inflammation of the eye and swelling of nearby lymph glands.
  • Oropharyngeal tularemia results from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.  Symptoms include sore throat, mouth ulcers, tonsillitis, and swelling of lymph glands in the neck.
  • Pneumonic tularemia results from breathing dusts or aerosols containing the bacteria and is the most serious form.  Symptoms include coughing, chest pain, and difficulty breathing.

Diagnosis and Treatment

  • Tularemia is a reare disease, and symptoms can be mistaken for other more common illnesses.
  • It is important to tell your healthcare provider about exposures to ticks or sick or dead animals.
  • Blood tests can help confirm the diagnosis.
  • Antibiotics are used to treat tularemia.

To Prevent Tularemia

  • Prevent tick bites.
  • Use gloves when handling animals, especially rabbits, muskrats, prairie dogs, and other rodents.
  • Cook all wild animal meat thoroughly before eating.
  • When handling (e.g., skinning or dressing) carcasses of dead animals, wear gloves and wash hands thoroughly immediately after.
  • Wash hands thoroughly after working with soil, before and after handling foods, and before eating.

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