LARAMIE, WY - Tularemia, a bacterial disease of wildlife that can be transmitted to humans and their pets, has been diagnosed in two cottontail rabbits a few miles northeast of Guernsey in Platte County.
A landowner along Whelen Canyon Road discovered about 20 dead rabbits and contacted the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Two of the rabbits were sent to the Game and Fish’s Wildlife Diseases Laboratory and both tested positive for tularemia.
Tularemia is fairly common in rodents and rabbits and occasionally spills over into other host species, including humans. It occurs almost every year somewhere in Wyoming but is not cause for alarm. Wheatland Game Warden David Ellsworth said like most other wildlife diseases, tularemia is more likely to occur during periods of high populations, which cottontail rabbits are experiencing now.
According to the Wyoming Department of Health, humans typically become infected through the bites of ticks and deerflies, but may also infected by handling infected animal carcasses, eating or drinking contaminated food or water, or by inhaling infected aerosols. Dogs and cats can also contract tularemia by eating infected animals, drinking contaminated water or through tick and deer fly bites. With small game seasons coming up in the fall, Ellsworth cautions hunters to avoid harvesting rabbits that appear sick, use gloves when handling harvested game and cook game thoroughly before consumption. Tularemia is active during periods of warm weather when insect vectors are present, but the disease generally dies off after a hard frost.
Other ways to avoid tularemia include
• Do not feed wildlife.
• Do not handle sick or dead animals. If you must move a carcass, place it in a garbage bag using a long-handled shovel, and place the bag in an outdoor garbage can. Or bury the animal deep enough so it cannot be dug up and eaten by another animal. Carcasses can also be burned to destroy the disease.
• Wear an insect repellent with DEET.
• Do not allow pets to hunt or eat wild rodents or rabbits. Infected pets can transmit the disease to people.
• Avoid ticks and keep pets out of heavily wooded areas where ticks reside.
Tularemia epidemics are not uncommon and may result in extensive rabbit mortalities, but most cases involve just a few to several deaths in isolated populations.
Several dead prairie dogs and other rodents at Devil's Tower National Monument have also tested positive for tularemia.