Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Karla Pomeroy

Tularemia found in Washakie County cat

One human case in Big Horn County


Will Laegreid

WORLAND - Tularemia, plague, West Nile virus, rabies, vesicular stomatitis – Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory experts are cautioning residents to monitor not only their pets and livestock, but also themselves this summer.

Several cases of tularemia in wildlife and domestic animals have been diagnosed by the WSVL, including in Albany, Platte and Washakie counties, said Will Laegreid, WSVL director.

"There have been a number of human tularemia cases in Colorado this summer and (Wyoming), and we would like to prevent any more cases in Wyoming if possible," Laegreid said.

The Wyoming Department of Health Public Information Officer Kim Deti said Wednesday there have been eight human cases to date in Wyoming - four in Weston County, and one each in Big Horn, Natrona, Converse and Goshen. She said some of the people have had to be hospitalized.

Caused by bacteria, tularemia - also called rabbit fever - is commonly associated with rabbits and rodents, he said, and outbreaks often coincide with booming rabbit populations, as seen in Wyoming this year.

Wyoming Department of Health state epidemiologist, Dr. Tracy Murphy said in a July 17 news release, "Recently, we are hearing about rabbit die-offs, in dead voles near Devils Tower in Crook County and in a Washakie County cat," said. "Tularemia is always a concern but is not common. To see this activity is concerning."

Laegreid said his office has not received any other confirmed cases in Washakie County, regarding domestic and wild animals.

"Historically it's been around but there have been none in the past five years, Mandy Thoet, veterinarian at Cloud Peak Veterinary Services in Worland, said. "It is zoonotic (can pass to humans), that's why there is a concern," she said.

Echo Study of Tharp Veterinary Clinic in Worland said the cat that tested positive was treated at the clinic and was from Ten Sleep. She said the owners had notice a lot of rabbits dying off in the area.

"People need to be aware and to protect themselves, they need to protect their pets," Study said.

Human symptoms

According to the Wyoming Department of Health release, People may acquire tularemia when bit by infected ticks, deer flies or horse flies. It can also be transmitted by handling infected animals, or through ingestion or contact with untreated, contaminated water or insufficiently cooked meat. 

Murphy said tularemia can be a serious disease and, in rare cases, deadly. Tularemia symptoms can include fever, swollen and painful lymph glands, inflamed eyes, sore throat, mouth sores, skin ulcers and diarrhea. If the bacteria are inhaled, symptoms can include sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, dry cough and progressive weakness and pneumonia.

Recommendations to help avoid tick-related diseases include:

-Wear light-colored clothing to make it easier to see ticks crawling on clothing.

- Tuck pant legs into socks.

- Apply insect repellents such as those containing 20 percent or more DEET and/or picaradin.

- Upon return from potentially tick-infested areas, search self and children for ticks and remove if found.

- Check pets for ticks; use tick control products recommended by veterinarians.

Added precautions to help reduce tularemia risk include:

-Avoid bathing, swimming or working in untreated water and avoid drinking untreated water.

-Avoid handling rabbits, squirrels or other animals that appear sick.

-Wear rubber gloves when skinning animals, especially rabbits and squirrels; skin animals in a well-ventilated area.

-Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling sick or dead animals. Cook meat thoroughly before eating, especially rabbit and squirrel.

"Tularemia may be quite serious in humans, who may become infected through direct contact with wild rabbits, prairie dogs, voles and other rodents through insect or tick bites or through ingestion of contaminated food or water," said Laegreid.

"It is worth noting that plague, another very serious disease, is present in Wyoming, closely resembles tularemia and shares many of the same risks for human and animal infections as tularemia," said Laegreid. "Two fatal human plague infections have occurred this year in Colorado, highlighting the need for people to be aware and take actions to prevent these infections."


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