Rabbit fever (Tularemia) | Living the Country Life

Rabbit fever (Tularemia)

Don't touch the bunny
Photo courtesy University of Missouri

There’s a bacterial disease in wildlife called rabbit fever that’s been around for a long time and reported in every state except Hawaii. It can be transmitted to humans and make you really sick.

Kelly Rockwell is the manager of the Wildlife Medical Clinic at the University of Illinois. She says the illness, which is also known as tularemia, is found not only in rabbits but also in rodents. If you see an animal not acting right, don’t touch it.

"With bunnies you usually expect them to try to run away from you very fast. If they’re kind of laying there and they don’t have any obvious injuries, they’re easy to pick up or something like that, that’s what we would consider a suspect as having tularemia," says Rockwell. "And that kind of goes across the board for the other rodents as well because they’re all prey animals, they all want to run away from you."

Rockwell says the disease is transmitted to humans by direct contact with the infected animal through its bodily fluids or eating the meat. Another way is by getting bit by an insect that recently bit the animal. The disease is not transmitted human-to-human.

If you’ve touched a rabbit or rodent and start feeling sick within a few days, get to your doctor right away.

"Usually it’ll start off as flu-like symptoms, so aches, fever, chills. And it can progress to muscle pain, you can also get glandular issues so you might feel like you have swollen glands. It can progress from there, and it can actually be fatal," says Rockwell. "But if you think there might have been an exposure and you feel like you’re developing these signs, certainly go to a healthcare professional and you can get antibiotics for it."

Pets can also become infected, so keep them away from wildlife and watch for any signs of illness.

Learn more about rabbit fever

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