Tularemia: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

What are the symptoms of tularemia?

Tularemia, also known as rabbit fever, is a rare infectious disease caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. The symptoms of tularemia can vary depending on how the bacteria enter the body (e.g., through the skin, lungs, or ingestion) and the form of the disease. The most common symptoms of tularemia include:

  1. Fever: A sudden onset of high fever is a common symptom of tularemia.
  2. Skin ulcers or sores: If the bacteria enter the body through a break in the skin, it can cause an ulcer or sore at the site of entry. This is known as the ulceroglandular form of tularemia.
  3. Swollen and painful lymph glands: The lymph nodes near the site of entry may become swollen, tender, and painful. This is known as lymphadenopathy.
  4. Chills and body aches: Many people with tularemia experience chills, body aches, and fatigue.
  5. Pneumonia-like symptoms: If the bacteria are inhaled, tularemia can cause symptoms similar to pneumonia, including cough, chest pain, and difficulty breathing. This is known as the pneumonic form of tularemia.
  6. Other symptoms: Other symptoms of tularemia can include headache, joint pain, and sore throat.

The symptoms of tularemia typically appear within 3 to 5 days after exposure to the bacteria, but they can take up to 14 days to appear. If you develop symptoms of tularemia, especially if you have been in areas where the disease is known to occur or have been exposed to infected animals or insect bites, seek medical attention from a healthcare provider promptly. Tularemia can be effectively treated with antibiotics, especially when diagnosed early.

What are the causes of tularemia?

Tularemia is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. The bacterium can be found in animals, especially rodents, rabbits, and hares, as well as in ticks, deer flies, and other insects. Humans can become infected with F. tularensis through several routes, including:

  1. Direct contact with infected animals: Handling or skinning infected animals, such as rabbits or rodents, can expose humans to the bacteria.
  2. Insect bites: Bites from infected ticks, deer flies, or other insects can transmit the bacteria to humans.
  3. Ingestion of contaminated food or water: Drinking untreated water or consuming undercooked meat from infected animals can lead to infection.
  4. Inhalation of airborne bacteria: Inhaling dust or aerosols contaminated with the bacteria, such as during farming or landscaping activities, can cause infection. This is a less common route of transmission.

F. tularensis is highly infectious, and only a small number of bacteria are needed to cause infection. The bacterium is capable of surviving for weeks in water, soil, and decaying animal carcasses, which contributes to its ability to spread in the environment.

Tularemia is most commonly reported in rural areas and during the summer months when ticks and deer flies are more active. People who work outdoors, such as farmers, landscapers, and hunters, are at higher risk of contracting tularemia.

What is the treatment for tularemia?

Tularemia is typically treated with antibiotics, which are effective in treating the infection if started early. The specific antibiotic and duration of treatment depend on the form of tularemia and the severity of the illness. Commonly used antibiotics for treating tularemia include:

  1. Streptomycin: This is often considered the first-line treatment for severe cases of tularemia or for those with pneumonic tularemia.
  2. Gentamicin: Another antibiotic that is effective against F. tularensis and is commonly used to treat tularemia.
  3. Doxycycline or ciprofloxacin: These antibiotics may be used as alternatives to streptomycin or gentamicin, especially for less severe cases or when the other antibiotics cannot be used.

The duration of antibiotic treatment can vary but is typically at least 10 to 14 days. In some cases, longer courses of antibiotics may be needed, especially for more severe infections or complications.

In addition to antibiotics, supportive care, such as rest, fluids, and pain relievers, may be recommended to help manage symptoms and promote recovery. It’s important to follow your healthcare provider’s advice regarding treatment and follow-up care if you have been diagnosed with tularemia.

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About the Author: John Scott

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