Tularemia & Ticks in New England

Caused by a bacterium found in animals like rabbits and rodents, tularemia is a potentially serious disease that occurs throughout the United States. Dog ticks, wood ticks, and Lone Star ticks serve as carriers of the disease. Humans can become infected via the skin, eyes, mouth, throat, or lungs, and symptoms depend on which way the bacteria enter the body.

In addition to being spread by the bites of certain tick species, tularemia can be contracted by handling an infected animal or carcass, eating or drinking contaminated materials, or inhaling the bacteria directly. To date, there have been no reported instances of human-to-human transmission of tularemia.

Symptoms of Tularemia

Symptoms of tularemia infection include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Joint pain
  • Progressive weakness

Other symptoms may also appear, depending on the way the disease entered the body of the patient. Tularemia symptoms first develop after three to five days, though some people experience the initial onset of symptoms as many as 14 days after exposure to the bacteria. Ulceroglandular tularemia, which occurs from the bite of an infected tick or by handling an infected animal, is the most common form of the disease and usually results in the development of a skin ulcer at the point of contact and the swelling of the lymph glands in either the armpit or groin area.

Different Forms of Tularemia

Other forms of tularemia include glandular, oculoglandular, and oropharyngeal. Glandular tularemia produces symptoms similar to the ulceroglandular variety, except for the development of the skin ulcer. Oculoglandular tularemia occurs when the disease enters the body through the eyes, while the oropharyngeal variety results from ingesting contaminated food or water. The most serious form of the disease is pneumonic tularemia, which occurs as a result of inhaling dusts or aerosols that contain the bacteria and includes symptoms like a cough, chest pain, and trouble breathing. If left untreated, the other forms of the disease can lead to pneumonic tularemia as the bacteria spreads to both the bloodstream and the lungs.

Treating Tularemia

A rare disease, tularemia is difficult to diagnose and sometimes mistaken for more common illnesses. Blood tests help confirm diagnoses of tularemia, and doctors typically prescribe antibiotics to eliminate the disease. Treatment may last up to three weeks, depending on how quickly the disease was discovered. The elderly and patients with weakened immune systems are prone to the more severe symptoms of tularemia, such as pneumonia.

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