'Rabbit fever' confirmed in Dewey area

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DEWEY, Ariz. -- Tularemia has been found among wild rabbits in the Dewey area.

Tularemia, commonly known as "rabbit fever," is caused by a germ carried by animals, especially rodents, rabbits and hares.

People and pets who spend time outdoors can contract tularemia if they are bitten by infected deerflies, ticks or other insects, or by handling infected rodents or rabbits. Rarely, tularemia can spread to humans through contaminated food or water, or by inhaling the airborne germ. It is not known to spread from person to person.

Yavapai County health officials said symptoms in humans include sudden fever, headaches, diarrhea, muscle soreness, joint pain, dry cough, progressive weakness and pneumonia.

Symptoms generally show up three to five days after exposure, but sometimes as late as 14 days later.

You can avoid contracting tularemia by applying DEET-based insect repellent to exposed skin while spending time outdoors. People can also apply tick medicine and tick collars to cats and dogs to protect both the pet and the owner.

Pet owners should also avoid touching any dead animal that their cat may have brought home. Hunters should wear rubber gloves when skinning game to protect themselves from contaminated blood getting in an open wound.

Health officials said about 120 human cases are reported each year, mostly in the western and south-central states.

The illness is treatable. Contact your doctor at the first sign of illness.

For more information or concerns about tularemia, contact YCCHS Environmental Health Unit at 928-771-3149.