What is tularemia and how does it spread?

Tularemia is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis and is most commonly transmitted to humans by the handling of sick or dead animals infected with tularemia.  Infection can also arise from a bite from an infected insect (such as a tick, flea, or deer fly) being exposed to contaminated soil, drinking contaminated water, or inhaling bacteria.  Hunters, who skin animals without gloves and are exposed to infected blood through an open wound, are also at risk.  

Rabbit sitting alert in a field. Rabbit sitting alert in a field.

What are the symptoms and can it be treated?

Typical signs include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, chest pain, and coughing.  Tularemia can be effectively treated with antibiotics. Should you have any of these early signs and think you may have been exposed, contact your medical provider. 


What can I do to protect myself and my pets?

  • Wear gloves while gardening or landscaping, and wash your hands after these activities.
  • It's recommended to use a mask when mowing or doing yard work. Do not mow over animal carcasses.
  • Do not go barefoot or wear sandals while gardening, mowing or landscaping.
  • Wear an insect repellent effective against ticks, biting flies and mosquitoes when hiking, camping or working outdoors. Effective repellents contain picaridin, IR3535 or 20 to 30 percent DEET.
  • Do not drink unpurified water from streams or lakes or allow your pets to drink surface waters.
  • Routinely use a tick and flea preventive on your pets.
  • Prevent pets from hunting or eating wild animals. Contact a veterinarian if your pet becomes ill with a high fever and/or swollen lymph nodes.

If you hunt, trap, or skin animals, take additional steps:

  • Use impervious gloves when skinning or handling animals, especially rabbits.
  • Cook the meat of wild animals thoroughly to a temperature of 165°F or higher.