Most actions have consequences. Some of these are positive while others may instead be negative. In order to avoid life's many consequences, it is necessary to make good choices and approach situations with care and caution. While this is true overall, it also applies to rabbit hunting.
An example of a negative consequence is contracting Rabbit Fever, or Tularemia. While this disease is rare, it is infectious and can be passed from a diseased rabbit to a human being. Cooking rabbit thoroughly does kill the bacteria, but the handling process could result in infection. When cleaning rabbits, which should be done immediately after the kill, be sure to wear gloves as a means to protect yourself from the spread of Tularemia bacteria. Covering your mouth and nose is also beneficial due to the possibility of infection through inhalation.
Caused by the bacterium Francisella Tularensis, Tularemia generally affects rodents, rabbits, and hares, but is capable of infecting other mammals as well. In some cases, even birds, fish, and reptiles can contract the disease. It is spread by insect bites or direct contact with an infected animal. When present, this illness is highly contagious and takes a toll on eyes, skin, lungs, and lymph nodes, even putting internal organs at risk. Because of this, an ounce of prevention is most definitely worth a pound of cure, especially because this disease materializes quickly and can be fatal. Symptoms appear within 2-10 days and a course of rapidly administered, targeted antibiotics are necessary for survival.
A potentially infected rabbit infested with ticks. Photo: Tree and Lawn Care
There are several types of Tularemia:
- Ulceroglandular Tularemia is most common, causing skin ulcers where the infection occurred in addition to other symptoms listed above.
- Glandular Tularemia is similar to Ulceroglandular Tularemia, except that skin ulcers are not present.
- Oropharyngeal Tularemia is acquired through eating undercooked wild game. Mouth ulcers may be present.
- Typhoidal Tularemia is a more rare form of Tularemia which causes an enlarged spleen (splenomegaly) and enlarged liver (hepatomegaly).
- Pneumonic Tularemia is the progression of Typhoidal Tularemia as pneumonia develops.
- Oculoglandular Tularemia is known to affect eyes, causing redness, pain, swelling discharge, and ulcer formation inside the eyelid.
Tularemia Skin Ulcer, Photo: Wikipedia
Tularemia is not passable amongst humans from one to the next. It is predominately spread by insects bites, contaminated food or water, airborne bacteria, and/or handling sick or dead animals. If you have a suspicious bite or begin seeing ulcers or experiencing other conditions mentioned above, see a doctor immediately; this disease can spread to the lungs if left untreated. Also keep in mind that Tularemia can survive in soil and dead animals for several months, so the threat is fairly constant.
When it comes to Tularemia concerns, it is not only yourself you need to protect, but also your rabbit dogs. All it takes is one bite from a tick, mite, flea, or mosquito carrying the disease to transmit it to your dogs. It is also possible for a dog to acquire this disease in manners similar to humans, such as through skin, airways, eyes, or consumption via eating or drinking. Dogs are also treated with antibiotics which must be rapidly administered to be effective.
Signs of an infected dog include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal tenderness
- Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes)
- Ulcers on the tongue
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Enlarged spleen and/or liver
Photo: Stanley the Beagle
There are about 100-150 cases of Tularemia seen annually, usually in the warmer months when insects are most prevalent, with outbreaks having occurred in past years. To keep yourself from becoming infected, be sure to take precautions such as wearing gloves and applying insect repellent to ensure your health and safety while handling animals. To protect your rabbit dogs from infection, keep them on an effective monthly flea and tick preventative or utilize other means of insect repellant, and always provide fresh water for them to drink. It may prove impossible to keep them from drinking out of puddles and ponds, but the more fresh water you provide, the better hydrated they will be, reducing the need for them to look elsewhere for what could become a potentially fatal drink.
Have you had any experiences with Tularemia/Rabbit Fever? If so, let us know what you experienced and how you handled it in the comments.