The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) reports two confirmed cases of tularemia in 2019 among two residents of Santa Fe County: a 57-year-old man and a 72-year-old woman.
Tularemia is a rare infection caused by the bacteria Francisella tularensis that spreads through insect bites, with deer flies and ticks being the primary vectors in New Mexico. It can also be spread through handling infected animal tissues in situations such as hunting, trapping and skinning of rabbits or other rodents or during the clean-up of rodent carcasses while gardening.
Dogs and cats can be infected if they are allowed to roam and scavenge dead animals or are not protected from tick bites. Tularemia can also make dogs and cats sick: if they are not diagnosed and treated by their veterinarian, they can give the disease to people. Direct inoculation from an animal bite is very rare but can occur if the animal is infected.
Tularemia symptoms in people may include sudden fever, chills, headaches, diarrhea, muscles aches and joint pain. Other symptoms may include swollen and painful lymph glands especially in the anatomical region where the bacteria first gained entry into the body.
“Tularemia can cause serious illness in both people and pets, so I would encourage people in Santa Fe County to follow precautions to avoid getting infected,” said Department of Health Cabinet Secretary, Kathy Kunkel. “People can get tularemia if they handle infected animals such as rabbits or rodents or are bitten by infected ticks or deer flies. Provide your own protection against insect bites and improve your pet’s safety by not letting them roam loose or scavenge rodents.”
To Avoid Exposure to Tularemia
- Wear an insect repellent effective against ticks, fleas, biting flies and mosquitoes when hiking, camping or working outdoors including gardening and landscaping. Effective repellants include: DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535.
- Ensure your pet has a year-round tick and flea product. Consult with your veterinarian about the product that is best-suited for your pet.
- Prevent pets from hunting or eating wild animals. Contact a veterinarian if your pet becomes ill with a high fever and/or swollen lymph nodes.
- Wear gloves while gardening or landscaping and wash your hands after these activities.
- Avoid mowing over dead animals, such as when cutting the grass, as this can potentially aerosolize the bacteria.
- Dispose of animal carcasses by using a long-handled shovel and either bury them 2-3 feet deep (if allowed) or double bag them in garbage bags and throw them in the trash.
In 2018 there was one human tularemia cases and seven animal tularemia cases; in 2017 there were five human tularemia cases and 39 animal cases.
For more information, visit the CDC’s Tularemia web page: https://www.cdc.gov/Tularemia/.