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Tularemia

Deerfly fever; Rabbit fever; Pahvant Valley plague; Ohara disease; Yato-byo (Japan); Lemming fever

Tularemia is a bacterial infection in wild rodents. The bacteria are passed to humans through contact with tissue from the infected animal. The bacteria can also be passed by ticks, biting flies, and mosquitoes.

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Deer ticks
Ticks
Tick imbedded in the skin
Antibodies
Bacteria

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Causes

Tularemia is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis.

Humans can get the disease through:

The disorder most commonly occurs in North America and parts of Europe and Asia. In the United States, this disease is found more often in Missouri, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Although outbreaks can occur in the United States, they are rare.

Some people may develop pneumonia after breathing in infected dirt or plant material. This infection has been known to occur on Martha's Vineyard (Massachusetts), where bacteria are present in rabbits, raccoons, and skunks.

Symptoms

Symptoms develop 3 to 5 days after exposure. The illness usually starts suddenly. It may continue for several weeks after symptoms begin.

Symptoms include:

Exams and Tests

Tests for the condition include:

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to cure the infection with antibiotics.

The antibiotics streptomycin and tetracycline are commonly used to treat this infection. Another antibiotic, gentamicin, has been tried as an alternative to streptomycin. Gentamicin seems to be very effective, but it has been studied in only a small number of people because this is a rare disease. The antibiotics tetracycline and chloramphenicol can be used alone but are not usually a first choice.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Tularemia is fatal in about 5% of untreated cases, and in less than 1% of treated cases.

Possible Complications

Tularemia may lead to these complications:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if symptoms develop after a rodent bite, tick bite, or exposure to the flesh of a wild animal.

Prevention

Preventive measures include wearing gloves when skinning or dressing wild animals and staying away from sick or dead animals.

Related Information

Tick bite
Endemic
Atypical pneumonia
Insect bites and stings
Meningitis
Community-acquired pneumonia in adults
Pericarditis
Osteomyelitis

References

Auwaerter PG, Penn RL. Francisella tularensis (tularemia). In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 227.

Bloch KC, Schaffner W. Tularemia and other Francisella infections. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 295.

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Review Date: 3/15/2021  

Reviewed By: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Associate Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Associate in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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