Tularemia is a rare communicable illness transmitted from animals to humans, that is triggered by the bacteria known as Francisella tularensis. Also referred to as rabbit fever or deer fly fever, this rather harmful and sometimes fatal ailment is characterised by inflamed lymph nodes similar to those in lymphoma, besides prominent skin rashes and persistent high fever.

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Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of Tularemia

Tularemia typically affects mammalian species of wild rodents, namely mice, rats, squirrels, chipmunks, as well as rabbits and some kinds of birds. Humans usually contract tularemia when they come in direct contact with an animal, like rabbits, hares and rats, already sick with the bacterial strain, or if bitten by an insect such as ticks, acting as a vector, carrying the Francisella pathogen. This highly detrimental illness can hamper the functioning of lungs, bones, heart and even result in loss of life, if the symptoms are not reported at once and the condition is not diagnosed and treated in the early stages. It is hence strictly advised to consult with a medical professional, as soon as any signs of tularemia are displayed by a person.


The microbial agent that prompts tularemia infection is the bacteria Francisella tularensis. It is generally transmitted only from afflicted animals to humans and does not occur via contagious spread between an infected person and a healthy individual.

Tularemia can develop in people due to insect bites, predominantly from ticks and deer flies carrying the infectious Francisella bacteria. Also, persons encountering or handling diseased animals, particularly rabbits or hares, can acquire tularemia through bites or touching the creature’s infected body parts.

The Francisella bacteria can survive for several weeks in water and soil environment. Hence, while engaging in gardening or other outdoor activities where there are contaminated water and soils, the bacteria become suspended in the atmosphere and spread through the airborne route, when people inhale the polluted air. Individuals drinking dirty water, consuming undercooked animal, bird meat and laboratory technicians working with bacterial strains can also develop this lethal infection.

Risk Factors

Although tularemia occurs only in seldom instances, certain people are predisposed to contract this infection. The major risk factors for developing tularemia include:

Going on hunting pursuits, where people directly touch the blood of the wild animal, or trekking activities in woodland areas

Gardening on possibly infected soil, water housing the Francisella bacteria, which rises in the air while operating lawn mowers, weed trimmers and is inhaled by people

Being in microbiology, veterinary professions or employed with a wildlife organization, where people have to deal with animals regularly


When the tularemia bacterial infection afflicts a person, the distinct symptoms are displayed after 3 to 5 days. However, in some cases, the disease indicators show up only after two weeks.

Tularemia occurs in various types and the symptoms depend on what form of infection is affecting the person.

Ulceroglandular Tularemia:

Being the variant of tularemia that develops most often, indications include a noticeable skin ulcer at the exact spot on the body where the insect has bitten the person. The individual also has swollen lymph nodes, frequent episodes of chills, elevated body temperature, pounding headaches and a feeling of tiredness.

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Glandular Tularemia:

Individuals who contract glandular tularemia also experience migraines, fevers, enlargement of lymphatic tissues, but no itching or redness in the skin.

Oculoglandular Tularemia:

In this category of tularemia, aching, discomfort occurs in the region around the eyes, with redness, swelling, sores and fluid discharge from the visual organs. Affected individuals can also develop an increased sensitivity to bright light.

Oropharyngeal Tularemia:

This type of tularemia happens when people ingest unclean, raw or undercooked animal meat and drink unsanitary water. The illness hampers the digestive functions and prompts swelling, pain in the throat, mouth regions.

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, along with bulging of lymph nodes situated in the neck, distended tonsils are distinct signals exhibited by affected people.

Pneumonic Tularemia:

As the name suggests, this form of infection causes a decline in respiratory functions, with incessant coughing, pain in the chest, breathing difficulty and poor lung operations.

Typhoidal Tularemia:

A rather dangerous variant of tularemia, this illness gives rise to continuous fever, fatigue, body weakness, inflammation and swelling of the spleen and liver, besides pneumonia.

Diagnosis And Treatment

The doctor initially conducts an external physical exam on the individual, to probe for warning signals of skin ulcers, tiredness and swollen glands. A sample of the patient’s blood and sputum is collected and investigated for the presence of Francisella tularensis bacteria.

In case problems with the upper respiratory tract are displayed, the healthcare provider also conducts a chest X-ray, to gather a visual scan of the lungs in order to determine any possible signs of pneumonia.

Once the diagnosis of tularemia in confirmed in the patient, the primary treatment is with prescription antibiotic medications, which are given to be taken orally or administered directly into the body’s bloodstream, via either the intramuscular or intravenous route.

Depending upon the type of tularemia and the organ system afflicted by the bacterial infection, additional therapies are given, to relieve all symptoms and pain. This ensures the full recovery from tularemia and restores optimal health in the patient.