Tularemia (Rabbit Fever)

  • Medical Author:
    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP

    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP is the Chair of the Department of Medicine at Michigan State University. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt Medical School, and completed her residency in Internal Medicine and a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Indiana University.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

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Tularemia facts

  • Tularemia is caused by the bacteria Francisella tularensis.
  • Tularemia affects animals and humans.
  • Humans acquire tularemia when they come into contact with infected animals or are bitten by insects that feed on infected animals.
  • Tularemia may be spread through inhalation of dried animal matter, eating undercooked game, skinning or dressing killed animals, or drinking water contaminated with animal carcasses.
  • Tularemia causes fever, fatigue, aches and headache. Swollen lymph nodes are common. A sore may form at the site of inoculation. The organism may spread widely, causing major organs to fail. Pneumonia is common after inhalation but may also occur when the organism spreads throughout the body.
  • Tularemia is a potential bioterrorism agent because it can be freeze-dried into a power which can be aerosolized and only a few inhaled bacteria can cause disease.
  • If untreated, tularemia causes prolonged fever and fatigue and is often fatal. With treatment, death is rare.
  • Tularemia is treated with intramuscular streptomycin or intravenous gentamicin. Oral medications are less reliable and are not currently recommended for significant disease.

What is tularemia?

Tularemia is an infection caused by the Gram-negative bacteria Francisella tularensis. The organism is named after Edward Francis who, while in Tulare County, California, helped discover how the disease was spread and how the organism could be cultured.

Tularemia is usually a disease of animals. Humans can acquire tularemia when they come in contact with infected animals or are bitten by insects that have fed on an infected animal. Ticks, biting flies, and mosquitoes have been shown to transmit tularemia between animals and humans. Tularemia is one of several tick-borne diseases and can be spread by many species of ticks, including Dermacentor variabilis and Amblyomma americana. Among biting flies, the deer fly (Chrysops spp.) is the most widely cited vector. Even small doses of these bacteria (10-50 bacteria) have the potential to cause severe disease. For this reason, F. tularensis has the potential to be used as a bioweapon.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/10/2015

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