The New Mexico Department of Health confirmed today that a 51-year-old Los Alamos man was infected with tularemia.
The case was confirmed at the Department’s Scientific Laboratory Division. The man was hospitalized but has recovered and gone home. There also have been 33 cases of tularemia this year in pet dogs and cats from Los Alamos, Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Taos and Torrance counties.
“Tularemia can cause serious illness in both people and pets. I encourage people around the state to follow the same precautions they would to avoid contracting plague, which includes not handling sick or dead animals,” DOH Cabinet Secretary Retta Ward said. “People can get tularemia if they handle infected animals such as rabbits or rodents or if they are bitten by infected ticks or deer flies.”
Tularemia is a potentially serious illness in people that occurs in many parts of the United States. It is caused by a bacteria found in animals, especially rodents, rabbits and hares. Tularemia can also make dogs and cats sick and they can give the disease to people. Other possible, but much less likely, exposures are through contact with infected soil or water or by inhaling the bacteria.
Symptoms of tularemia in people usually develop three to five days after exposure but onset can vary from one to 14 days. Tularemia symptoms are similar to plague infection including sudden fever, chills, headaches, diarrhea, muscles aches and joint pain. Other symptoms of tularemia depend on how a person was exposed to the tularemia bacteria and can include pneumonia and chest pain, ulcers on the skin or mouth, swollen and painful lymph glands, swollen and painful eyes, and a sore throat.
“Many areas of the state have seen a large increase in the rabbit population this year and a lot of them have been getting sick and dying from tularemia,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, the Department of Health’s public health veterinarian. “Oftentimes when there is a rabbit or rodent die off in an area due to tularemia, deer flies or ticks can become infected from these animals and then pass it on to pets or people when they bite them.”
To avoid exposure to tularemia:
- Wear gloves while gardening or landscaping, and wash your hands after these activities.
- Avoid mowing over dead animals when cutting the grass, etc. as this can potentially aerosolize the bacteria.
- Do not go barefoot while gardening, mowing or landscaping.
- Dispose of animal carcasses by using a long-handled shovel and either bury them 2-3 feet deep (if allowed) or double bag them in garbage bags and dispose in the trash.
- Wear an insect repellent effective against ticks, biting flies and mosquitoes when hiking, camping or working outdoors. Effective repellants include: DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535.
- Do not drink unpurified water from streams or lakes or allow your pets to drink surface waters.
- 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.
In 2014 there were five human cases of tularemia in New Mexico, a 65-year-old woman from Bernalillo County, a 78-year-old man and a 70-year-old woman both from San Juan County, a 66-year-old man from Lincoln County and a 69-year-old woman from Sandoval County. All five human cases were hospitalized and all recovered.
For more information about tularemia, visit the Tularemia page on the CDC website.