Wild rabbit in Pueblo West tests positive for tularemia

Wild Rabbit
El Paso County health officials confirmed Thursday, June June 22, a wild rabbit has tested positive for tularemia. / El Paso County Public Health

PUEBLO COUNTY, Colo. — A wild rabbit found in the area of Kirkwood Drive in Pueblo West has tested positive for tularemia, Pueblo health officials confirmed Friday, April 21.

Officials say the rabbit appeared to have no contact with people.

Although there are no human cases of tularemia identified in Pueblo so far this year, Colorado has experienced human tularemia cases in those who have been exposed to contaminated soil, drinking contaminated water or inhaling the bacteria, according to Vicki Carlton, program manager in the Environmental Health Division at the Pueblo City-County Health Department.

Pueblo residents are advised that the bacteria may be present in some mammals including rabbits, rodents and hares on the ground where they may be active.

The rabbit found on Kirkwood Drive does confirm tularemia is present in Pueblo County and specialists are continuing to monitor tularemia activity.

Tularemia, also known as rabbit fever, causes a bacterial infection commonly transmitted to humans by handling sick or dead animals already infected. Infection can also happen from the bite of infected insects (such as ticks and deer flies) in addition to exposure to soil and vegetation.

Hunters who skin animals without gloves and are exposed to infected blood through an open wound are also at risk.

Typical signs of infections in humans include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing

Tularemia can be treated with antibiotics. If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately.

Your pets are also at risk if they eat infected rabbits or other rodents as well as through tick and deer fly bites. If your pet shows symptoms such as fever, nasal and eye discharge, or skin sores, take it to the veterinarian immediately. Tularemia in dogs and cats is easily treated if diagnosed at an early stage.

Pueblo City-County Health Department has issued the following tips and precautions for those in the area:

Recommended precautions for everyone:

  • Avoid handling wild animals.
  • When outdoors near places where wild rabbits or rodents are present, wear insect repellent containing DEET.
  • Use a dust mask when mowing or doing yard work. Do not mow over animal carcasses.
  • Leash your pets when outdoors and keep them away from dead animals.
  • Routinely use a tick and flea prevention treatment on pets.
  • If a dead animal must be moved, avoid direct contact with the carcass. Wear insect repellent to protect yourself from the its fleas or ticks, and use a long-handled shovel to scoop up the carcass.
  • Place the carcass in a garbage bag and dispose in an outdoor trash receptacle. Wash your hands with soap and water afterwards.
  • Wear proper footwear outdoors where dead animals have been found.
  • Do not go barefoot or wear sandals while gardening, mowing or landscaping.
  • Wear gloves while gardening or landscaping, and wash your hands after these activities.
  • Do not drink unpurified water from streams or lakes or allow your pets to drink surface waters.

If you hunt, trap or skin animals, take the following extra steps:

  • Use impervious gloves when skinning or handling animals, especially rabbits.
  • Cook the meat of wild rabbits thoroughly to a temperature of 165°F or higher.

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