The New Mexico Department of Health has reported four cases of tularemia in humans and six cases in pets in the state since April. These cases have been reported in Santa Fe, Sandoval, San Juan, Los Alamos, McKinley, and Torrance counties. All infected have survived.
According to the CDC, tularemia is a disease caused by the bacterium Francisella tuarensis, which mainly affects rabbits and rodents. However, humans can be infected through tick and deer fly bites, skin-to-skin contact with infected animals, ingesting contaminated water, exposure in a lab, inhaling contaminated dusts and aerosols, or bioterrorism.
Symptoms vary depending on the bacteria’s entrance route and all include a fever, as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
The five main forms of tularemia are as follows:
- Ulceroglandular: The most common form of the illness comes from a tick or deer fly bite or contact with an infected animal. A skin ulcer will appear at the bacterium’s entrance site and regional lymph glands will swell, typically the armpit or groin.
- Glandular: Glandular is like ulceroglandular minus the presence of the ulcer.
- Oculoglandular: This occurs when the bacterium enters via the eye and can happen when a person has come into contact with an infected animal and then touches his or her eyes. Symptoms include irritation and inflammation of the eyes and swelling of lymph glands near the ears.
- Oropharyngeal: This form of the illness occurs from ingesting contaminated food or water. Symptomas can include sore throat, mouth ulcers, tonsillitis, and swelling of lymph glands in the neck.
- Pneumonic: The most serious form of the disease comes from breathing contaminated dusts or aerosols or if other forms are left untreated and spread to the lungs through the bloodstream. Symptoms can include coughing, chest pain, and difficulty breathing.
Although tularemia can be life-threatening, it can typically be treated with an antibiotic. To prevent contracting the illness, use insect repellent, check regularly for ticks when outdoors and remove them as quickly as possible, wear gloves when handling sick or dead animals, and avoid dead animals.