What’s Tularemia? Fairbanks Authorities Warn Of Fatal Disease Outbreak

Over the last few weeks, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) have reported that they have been receiving multiple calls from citizens about sick and dead hares all over the area. As a result, pet owners from the Fairbanks area are being warned to take care of their pets and keep a close eye on them.

That’s because according to the department’s latest release, necropsies of the dead hares from Kenny Lake and Fairbanks have revealed that these animals have contracted tularemia, a disease that if left untreated, can be very fatal to both dogs and cats.

Tularemia infection

As a disease, tularemia can infect both humans and animals, with rodents, hares and rabbits particularly susceptible to the disease, even causing large numbers of them to die whenever there are outbreaks.

Humans can get infected in various ways as well, including drinking contaminated water, skin contact with animals that are infected, inhaling contaminated aerosols, laboratory exposure and tick and deer fly bites. Once infected, people usually develop symptoms depending on how they’re infected, although most of them can be treated using antibiotics.

ADFG Veterinarian Dr. Kimberlee Beckmen said that tularemia outbreaks are common in the areas during the months of May and June. Still, extra precaution is greatly advised.

"An infection caused by the Francisella tularensis  bacteria, tularemia is most often diagnosed in hares and pets in the Interior between Memorial Day and Labor Day because it is spread by hare and vole ticks which are active during the summer," the ADFG release stated. "The tick species known to carry the bacteria prefer hares and rodents, but will occasionally bite dogs, cats, or people. Two species of dog ticks have become established around urban areas in Alaska and can spread the bacteria."

According to the ADGF, infected hares usually become weaker and slower during the later stages of the disease. This means pets, like dogs for instance, can catch them easily and can get infected in the process. Handling a pet’s saliva can also lead to infection, as well as handling the hares.

Per Beckman, although there are cases, tularemia in humans is still considered rare and can be treated easily.

"Do not allow your pets to roam free or have access to hares. Dogs and cats that go outdoors can be treated with a veterinary product that will kill ticks within 24 hours so that disease transmission doesn’t occur from ticks feeding on pets,” she added.

Rabbit A rare disease spread by ticks and rabbits alike is on the rise this year in Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Nebraska, the CDC reports. Shawn Nystrand, CC BY-SA 2.0