American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis). Courtesy/CDC
The New Mexico Department of Health reports there have been 20 cases of the severe infectious bacterial disease tularemia in animals since Jan. 1 in New Mexico.
Cases include two cats from Los Alamos County as well as dogs, cats and or rabbits in Taos County, Santa Fe County and Bernalillo County.
Confirmatory testing was conducted at the Department’s Scientific Laboratory Division, NMDOH officials said.
A White Rock resident residing near Pinon Elementary School reported finding two dead adult rabbits this week in her yard. She said Animal Control advised her not to touch the rabbits as they may be infected with Tularemia.
Los Alamos Animal Control Ofc. Robert Aragon told the Los Alamos Daily Post that the protocol for anyone finding a dead animal is first and foremost to not touch it or allow pets near it.
“They should call New Mexico Game and Fish and report their finding,” Aragon said.
NMDOH epidemiologist Kenny Vigil spoke about the disease during an interview Friday. He said there were five human cases of lab confirmed tularemia in New Mexico in 2014. All were hospitalized.
Tularemia is a disease of animals and humans caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Rabbits, hares and rodents are especially susceptible and often die in large numbers during outbreaks. Tularemia is transmissible to humans, characterized by ulcers at the site of infection, fever and loss of weight. Humans can become infected through several routes, including:
- Tick and deer fly bites
- Skin contact with infected animals
- Ingestion of contaminated water
- Laboratory exposure
- Inhalation of contaminated dusts or aerosols
An ulcer caused by Francisella tularensis. Courtesy/CDC
The CDC adds that in addition, humans could be exposed as a result of bioterrorism.
Symptoms vary depending upon the route of infection. Although tularemia can be life-threatening, most infections can be treated successfully with antibiotics, according to the CDC.
Steps to prevent tularemia include:
- Use of insect repellent
- Wearing gloves when handling sick or dead animals
- Avoiding mowing over dead animals
The CDC states that In the United States, tularemia infections have been reported in every state except Hawaii.