First human tularemia case this year confirmed in Larimer County

Matthew Bailey

The first human case of tularemia in Larimer County this year has been confirmed, according to a July 11 press release from the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment.

The Larimer County resident who was found to have tularemia developed a lung infection and may have been exposed to contaminated soil while gardening at home, according to the press release.

Ad

Tularemia can be spread through soil contaminated with the droppings or urine of sick animals such as rabbits, and tularemia-causing bacteria can aerosolize and be inhaled when a person mows, blows leaves or turns up soil.

Rabbits, hares, small rodents, voles, muskrats and beavers are prominent carriers of tularemia-causing bacteria, and all warm-blooded animals are susceptible to tularemia, including livestock and pets such as dogs, cats and birds.

Tularemia outbreaks can be characterized by die-offs of rabbits or rodents in a neighborhood. The bacteria shed by these animals can remain in soil or water for weeks, and it doesn’t take much bacteria to cause an infection.

Hunters are especially susceptible to tularemia infections, because it can be spread to people who have handled infected animals.

A tularemia infection can also occur from the bites of infected insects such as ticks and deer flies, from exposure to contaminated food, water and soil, by eating, drinking, putting hands to the eyes, nose or mouth before washing after outdoor activities, by direct contact with breaks in the skin, and by inhaling particles carrying the bacteria, according to the press release.

Most human tularemia infections along the Front Range in recent years have been caused from activities involving soil and vegetation.

Signs of a tularemia infection may include fever, chills, headache, swollen and painful lymph nodes and fatigue. Skin ulcers and swollen glands typically develop if the tularemia infection is caused by the bite of an infected insect or from tularemia-causing bacteria entering a cut or scratch. A throat infection, mouth ulcers, stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting may occur after a person eats or drinks food or water contaminated with the bacteria. An infection of the lungs with chest pain and coughing may be caused by inhaling the bacteria, according to the release.

Anyone who has recognized early signs of the aforementioned symptoms should seek immediate medical attention, according to the County. Tularemia can be effectively treated with antibiotics, and untreated tularemia  may lead to hospitalization and can possibly be fatal.

According to the release, to avoid a tularemia infection, citizens should wear gloves when gardening or planting trees and wash hands before eating or putting hands to mouth, nose or eyes.

The Larimer County Department of Health and Environment advises citizens to also wear a dust mask when mowing or blowing vegetation, as well as excavating or tilling soil, according to the release. 

Ad

Insect repellent that protects against ticks, flies, and mosquitoes is also recommended to avoid becoming infected. Effective insect repellents include DEET, Picaridin and IR3535.

To further avoid infection, dead animals should not be touched with bare hands, and individuals should wear shoes on grassy lawns, especially if dead rodents or rabbits have been seen in the neighborhood.

Anyone who would like more information on tularemia and protecting people and pets can visit the Larimer County website.

Collegian reporter Matthew Bailey can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @Mattnes1999.