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This fact sheet answers frequently asked questions about Tularemia.

Tularemia is a bacterial disease. The disease occurs in both domestic animals and wild animals. In Boston, tularemia rarely occurs in humans.

The basics

How does tularemia spread?

Tularemia can spread through a tick or deer fly bite. Ticks that transmit tularemia to humans include dog ticks, wood ticks, and lone star ticks. Human infection can also occur after touching, handling, or eating an infected animal. In rare cases, it can spread through drinking contaminated water or inhaling contaminated dust. A person cannot directly spread the disease to another person.

How is tularemia diagnosed?

Tularemia can be difficult to diagnose. It is a rare disease, and the symptoms can be mistaken for other more common illnesses. It is important to tell your health care provider of all exposures, such as tick and deer fly bites, or contact with sick or dead animals. Blood and other laboratory tests can help confirm the diagnosis.


What are the symptoms of tularemia?

The symptoms of tularemia vary depending on how the bacteria enter the body. Illness ranges from mild to life-threatening. Tick bites can cause a person to have painful skin ulcers and/or swollen glands. A sore throat, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting may occur if you eat the germ. If inhaled, the germ may cause a person to experience a cough, chest pain and difficulty breathing. All forms cause a fever, which can be as high as 104° F.

How soon do symptoms appear?

Symptoms usually appear within 3-5 days of exposure, but can take as long as 14 days.


How can I stop the spread of tularemia?

  • Prevent insect bites by wearing protective clothing such as long sleeved shirts and long pants. Tuck your pant legs into your socks
  • Wear light colored clothes to help you spot any ticks on your clothes before they reach your skin
  • Exam pets for ticks
  • Avoid mowing over dead animals
  • Stay to the middle of paths when in a heavily wooded area
  • Use insect repellents containing DEET on exposed skin. Read labels carefully. Use products with no more than 30% DEET. Do not use insect repellents on infants. Wash skin with soap and water after returning indoors
  • You can apply Permethrin to items such as clothing to repel ticks. Read the product package carefully and follow the directions for use. Do not apply directly on your skin
  • There are other insect repellent products approved by the EPA
  • Conduct tick searches and remove attached ticks immediately. Try not to squeeze or twist the tick
  • Wear gloves when handling or skinning wild animals, especially rabbits, and rodents
  • Cook wild meat from all animals, especially rabbits and rodents thoroughly before eating
  • Discourage children from handling sick or dead animals, especially wild animals including rabbits
  • Avoid drinking untreated or contaminated water


What is the treatment for tularemia?

Your health care provider can give you medicine to treat tularemia. Treatment usually lasts 10 to 21 days depending on the stage of illness and the medication used. Although symptoms may last for several weeks, most patients completely recover.

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