Deadly 'Rabbit Fever' Spreads in Utah

Tularemia, which can infect humans, confirmed in 3 dead beavers
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 19, 2024 11:25 AM CDT
Deadly 'Rabbit Fever' Spreads in Utah
This 2002 microscope image shows Francisella tularensis, the bacteria behind tularemia, with a fluorescent stain at 1000x magnification.   (Larry Stauffer/Oregon State Public Health Laboratory/CDC via AP)

Authorities in Utah are warning about an outbreak of the potentially deadly tularemia, also known as rabbit fever, which, despite its name, can infect various rodents and mammals, including humans, cats, and dogs. So far, it's only been confirmed in beavers. Nine healthy-looking beavers and one vole were found dead in four locations across multiple Utah counties (specifically at the Swaner Preserve & EcoCenter near Park City, near the Jordanelle Dam in Wasatch County, in the Birdseye area of Utah County, and in a fourth location near Midway) between March 23 and April 10, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Four of the beavers were sent for testing, with three collected from three separate areas returning positive results for tularemia, per Live Science.

"The bacteria that causes this infection is known to be in the environment in many parts of Utah; however, it is unusual to see this many animals die from it at once," UDWR veterinarian Ginger Stout says in a statement, per USA Today. Actually, it's unusual to hear of cases at all. According to Live Science, this is the first case of the disease in a wild animal in Utah since 2017. The disease "has a high mortality rate, especially among wild animals," per the outlet. People may acquire it through bites from ticks and deerflies, contact with infected animals, or consuming contaminated food or water, per Live Science, which suggests the outbreak could be tied to the emerging of ticks from hibernation. Authorities say people should protect themselves from bites and report dead beavers. (More than 100 people were sickened during a prior outbreak.)

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