Description

Tularemia is a disease caused by the bacteria Francisella tularensis. It affects mammals, particularly hares and rodents. Tularemia can be transmitted to humans and cause skin, digestive or respiratory problems.

Animals at risk

Hares, beavers, muskrats and other small rodents are the most at risk of contracting and transmitting the disease. Domestic animals such as cats, dogs, sheep, pigs and horses are also susceptible to this disease. Hares are the animals most commonly identified as a source of infection in humans.

The bacteria is also found in invertebrates, mainly in ticks.

Signs of the disease in animals

Animals with tularemia exhibit abnormal behaviour or are found to be dying or dead. Their ganglions are swollen, and small white spots of various sizes can be seen on viscera such as the liver and spleen.

Transmission and incubation period

Tularemia is transmitted primarily between animals through bites from infected ticks, but also through other invertebrates such as fleas and horseflies.

Ingestion or direct contact with infected carcasses can also spread the disease, as can immersion in contaminated water or its ingestion. Inhaling aerosols can also transmit the disease.

Contact with an infected animal or its carcass, infected ticks bites, and drinking or eating contaminated water or game meat can be a source of contamination for humans.

Treatment

Some antibiotic treatments can be effective in domestic animals if administered quickly. However, it is preferable to act even sooner by preventing animals from coming into contact with ticks or carcasses of sick animals.

Protection and prevention

Tularemia can be prevented by adopting safe habits in the presence of animals.

Hunters, trappers, and people who prepare small game for consumption are at the greatest risk. Here are some tips to protect yourself:

  • Wear an apron, gloves, a mask and goggles to give you better protection when preparing game or skinning fur-bearing animals.
  • Moisten the fur before eviscerating the animal to reduce airborne dust or fine hair.
  • Avoid handling the carcass of a hare, muskrat or beaver with small, white spots on the organs.
  • After handling, immediately wash your hands and arms thoroughly with soap.
  • Thoroughly wash handling equipment, including gloves and aprons, and disinfect with a bleach solution (a part of bleach to nine parts of water) for 10 minutes, rinse and dry before storing.
  • Follow the best practices for handling, preserving and cooking game meat, as well as safety standards for cutting the meat. For more information, you may refer to this document on wild game meat (in French only). 
  • Protect yourself from tick bites
  • In the forest,drink only bottled water or water that has been boiled for five minutes.
  • Keep your pet out of contact with the carcass of a wild animal. Do not feed domestic animals with meat or offal from a wild animal.

In humans

Symptoms of the disease often appear abruptly from three to five days (sometimes up to 14 days) after exposure to the bacterium. General symptoms are:

  • fever; 
  • shivering; 
  • diffuse muscle pain; 
  • fatigue;
  • headaches.

Other symptoms specific to the part of the body that came into contact with the bacterium can occur, for example:

Penetration through the skin

  • skin ulcer(s);
  • swollen lymph nodes (armpit, groin or neck) depending on the part of the body affected.

Ingestion

  • inflammation of the throat; 
  • abdominal pain; 
  • vomiting;
  • diarrhea.

Inhalation

  • pneumonia

Infections of a digestive or pulmonary nature are serious, and, in some cases, complications can lead to death.

When to consult and treat

If, in the days following a tick bite or contact with a wild animal, you experience symptoms, you should consult a physician promptly and report the event. Antibiotic treatment is needed to cure the disease.

Last update: June 9, 2022

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