Tularemia, also known as Rabbit Fever, is caused by the bacteria Francisella tularensis, found in wild rodents and rabbits. It is spread through tick bites, direct contact with infected living or dead animals, or by drinking water that is contaminated with the bacteria. In California, the American Dog Tick and the Pacific Coast Tick can transmit tularemia.
Tularemia has been reported in many areas of the country. It is most frequently seen in the northern areas of California. Tularemia is very rare in San Diego.
The Vector Control Program routinely collects, identifies, and tests ticks for tularemia and other tick-borne pathogens. If tests come back positive for tularemia, warning signs are posted in the area to inform the public on how to avoid ticks and protect themselves and their pets from this serious disease.
When infection occurs, symptoms may appear 1 to 14 days after exposure. Beginning symptoms may include:
- Sudden fever and chills
- Muscle and joint pains
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
Other symptoms depend on how the patient was exposed to the bacterium:
- Skin or mouth lesions
- Swollen lymph glands
- Swollen, painful eyes
Although difficult to diagnose, tularemia can be treated with antibiotics, and most patients completely recover.
These personal protection measures will help lower exposure to ticks that could be infected with tularemia:
Stay on paths and trails
- Ticks are found in grassy, brushy areas and on the plants that line trails
- Keep pets on leash and on trail while hiking
Dress protectively when outdoors
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
- Wear light-colored clothing that shows ticks crawling on you
Use insect repellent
- Use repellents containing DEET or Picaridin
- Apply repellent to clothing and exposed skin; follow the directions carefully
Check yourself for ticks
- After you are in a tick-infested area, examine yourself and your companions for ticks and remove them right away
- Tick nymphs may be very small, about the size of a poppy seed
Avoid contact with wild animals
- Tularemia can spread through contact with wild rabbits and rodents