Tularemia Outbreak in Prairie Dogs in Texas
Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Texas Department of Health are investigating an outbreak of tularemia in wild prairie dogs at a commercial facility in Texas that distributes the animals in the United States and to other countries.
"These prairie dogs are sold as pets and anyone who has recently handled sick or dead prairie dogs from this facility may be at risk of acquiring tularemia," said CDC Epidemiologist Dr. David Dennis. "So far no human cases of tularemia associated with these prairie dogs have been identified. We're learning more about where these animals have been distributed but we know that some sick animals were distributed here in the United States and abroad. Anyone who has handled a sick or dead prairie dog in the last few weeks should contact their state or local health department or health care provider to learn if they should take antibiotics to prevent tularemia."
Texas health officials were recently notified that a number of prairie dogs at the facility had died unexpectantly. Testing on the dead animals at CDC laboratories indicated that the animals died from tularemia. Officials went to the facility to investigate and learned that over the past two months hundreds of prairie dogs that may potentially be infected with the bacteria were shipped to a number of outlets in various states including Ohio, West Virginia, Florida, Washington, Mississippi, Nevada, Texas, Illinois, Virginia. In addition, prairie dogs were also shipped to Japan, Czech. Republic, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Thailand. CDC and Texas health authorities have been notifying respective state and international health authorities. In addition, the World Health Organization and the European Union Disease Surveillance Network are assisting with the investigation.
Persons can become infected with the bacteria that causes tularemia by coming into skin contact with secretions from infected animals or through the bite or scratch of an infected animal. The disease usually begins suddenly with high fever, chills, head and muscle aches and a feeling of weakness. Chest discomfort and a dry cough are common. Other symptoms may appear depending on how someone acquires the infection. For example, if the bacteria enter through a break in the skin of the right hand, an open sore will usually develop at the site of entry, and tender swollen glands may appear in the right arm. It normally takes 1 to 14 days for someone to become sick after they have been exposed to the bacteria. The disease cannot be spread person to person and it can be successfully treated with antibiotics if it is properly diagnosed.
About 200 cases of tularemia in humans are reported each year in the United States, mostly in persons living in the south-central and western states. The disease is commonly known as "rabbit fever" and is usually acquired by handling wild rabbits or being bitten by infective ticks and certain flies, such as deer flies and horse flies
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