Facts on Tularemia :
Tularemia is a rare bacterial infection spreading from infected animals. It can affect both animals and humans and you can get this infection when you come into direct skin contact with infected animals. Even by eating undercooked meat or by inhaling dried particles of animals you can get this infection. It would cause fever, headache and swollen lymph nodes. Tularemia can be treated with suitable antibiotics. Tularemia can affect your eyes and skin and rarely your internal organs. In common terms it is called as rabbit fever or deer fever. Agents like flies, ticks and mosquitoes transmit this infection from animals to humans.
A person who gets infected with tularemia would become sick within two to seven days. The bacteria would gain entry through small cuts on your skin and sometimes you can inhale it through air or by eating uncooked foods.
Tularemia symptoms vary according to its types.
- Ulcero-glandular tularemia is the most common type. It can cause swelling of lymph glands, fever, headache and tiredness. There would be a small skin ulcer on the site of the insect bite.
- Glandular tularemia would cause fever, chills and swelling of lymph nodes.
- Oculoglandular type can affect your eyes causing redness, swelling of eyes and watery discharge from the eyes.
- Oropharyngeal type produces symptoms like fever, ulcers on the oral cavity, sore throat, vomiting and diarrhea. It is caused by eating undercooked meat of infected animals.
- Pneumonic tularemia produces severe cough with chest pain. In severe cases it can affect your normal breathing.
- Another rare form of tularemia is typhoidal type which can show symptoms like high fever, vomiting, diarrhea and enlargement of spleen or liver. It is serious type requiring immediate medical care.
Tularemia spreads from animals to humans by insect bite, by inhalation of dried content of animals and by direct skin contact of infected animals. Tularemia is caused by F. tularensis bacterium which infects animals, insects and birds.
Method of Transmission :
You can get tularemia infection by 4 methods.
- Through Insect Bites :
Deer flies and ticks are principal agents that carry tularemia bacteria.
- By Direct Contact :
An individual can get tularemia infection when he handles the infected animals. The bacteria can enter the skin through small cuts or injury.
- By Inhalation :
There is chance of getting infected when you inhale the soil or dried contents of infected animals.
- By Contamination :
You can get infected with tularemia by eating undercooked meat of infected birds or animals.
Risk Factors :
People who are involved in cattle industry, gardening, and engage in activities of handling dried contents of animal wastes are at risk of developing this infection. In certain internal areas of America like Oklahoma and Arkansas ticks are at high concentration and hence people living in this region are at risk.
In rare cases, tularemia can infect the lungs causing pneumonia and it can infect the brain causing meningitis. In some cases, if the bacteria are left untreated, it can infect the membrane surrounding the heart causing heart problems and it can spread into the bones causing infection.
Since the symptoms of tularemia mimic many other diseases, it is difficult to detect tularemia. Your doctor will have to collect information about your occupation and living area. He would order for blood test to check if antibodies are at increased level which indicates possibility of bacterial infection. If required, he may order for chest X-ray also.
Once you are diagnosed with tularemia, suitable antibiotics are prescribed. Gentamicin or streptomycin is given in the form of shots or oral pills. In some cases strong doses of antibiotics are given. If there is any complications of infections like pneumonia suitable treatments are given to prevent further infection.
No vaccine is available to prevent tularemia. You can wear protective clothing or gloves while working in your garden or while visiting the areas prone to ticks. In case your job involves handling animals, you should wear protective goggles and wash your hands thoroughly after handling every case. Avoid eating partially cooked meat. Tularemia infection has become a source of weapon used in bioterrorism, since it can spread easily to people who inhales it.