Tularemia, rabbit fever or deer fly fever is an infectious disease that affects hares, rabbits, and rodents (act as their carrier) caused by a bacterium Francisella tularensis. Should there be an outbreak, it causes many deaths in these animals especially the susceptible ones.
However, the disease has also been found to affect over 100 other species of wild and domestic mammals including dogs, cats, cattle, sheep, birds, hamsters, horses, among many others.
This is a zoonotic disease which is characterized by various signs and symptoms. While we will not be focusing on rabbit fever in human beings, we will look at something small on transmission and symptoms in human beings.
Tularemia symptoms in rabbits
The various symptoms that a bunny may show when it has been infected by this bacterium are not well documented since, in most instances, you will only find out that your furry friend is dead.
Transmission in bunnies
Transmission in rabbits occurs via direct contact by an infected bunny, its environment or via various vectors such as ticks and deer fly bites.
Also, the ingestion of contaminated water or food or inhalation of dust that have this bacteria, and so on can also transmit this bacterial infection.
Treatment in rabbits
If you suspect tularemia or there is a general outbreak, you need to contact your vet for treatment. Unfortunately, in most cases, your vet will conduct a postmortem diagnosis since it will cause sudden death.
Treatment is by use of antibiotics. Your vet will decide which ones will be the most ideal. Not all antibiotics that other animals such as cats and dogs use are safe for bunnies.
Tularemia in humans transmission and symptoms
In humans, this disease has been noted in “in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Europe. In the United States, it’s most common in the south-central states, the Pacific Northwest and parts of Massachusetts, including Martha’s Vineyard.” These areas are considered a risk factor.
Furthermore, gardeners, animal hunters and those who work in veterinary medicines and wildlife management are also at risk of infection.
Transmission in humans
F. tularensis is transmitted to human beings via deer fly or tick bites. Some of the ticks that are known to transmit this disease “include the dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), the wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), and the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum).” 
The bacteria that cause this disease is highly contagious and it can enter into your body via mouth, skin, eyes or lungs. Some of the common means by which one can be infected are by tick and deer fly bite, drinking water or eating food that is contaminated, touching infected animals (skin contact), or inhaling dust that is contaminated.
However, the infection does not spread directly between people but through the means, we have noted above.
Symptoms in humans
This bacterial infection has an incubation period of 3-5 days. In some instances, the incubation period may take 1-14 days and first generalized symptoms that will begin to show which include fever, malaise, chills, vomiting, and cephalgia.
Afterward, the signs become specific and they include ulcers on the place of the entry (you will notice ulcers on hands, fingers, etc.) that will be followed by necrosis.
Symptoms of pneumonia are also possible if it is inhaled while typhoidal tularemia results from the ingestion of contaminated food and water. Finally, ulceration and inflammation of conjunctiva may occur if this is where the bacteria penetrated your body.
Prevention and control of rabbit fever
Our focus was on rabbits, we only gave you symptoms and transmission to humans since it is one of the zoonotic diseases associated with rabbits, and it is good that you know them. Some of the preventive measures include the following:
- Thoroughly wash your hands after handling your pets. If possible, use gloves while handling them if you are in an area under a threat of an outbreak.
- Control ticks in rabbits as well as deer flies. Remove any ticks you may notice, let your vet treat them in case of a severe infestation and use bunny safe insect repellents.
- Ensure proper disposal of any dead animal and use gloves when handling it as well as footwear.
- Mow your backyard regularly. Check for any dead animals and wear a mask to minimize the chances of inhaling dust that might be having F. tularensis.
- While grooming your bunnies, check for any signs of ticks, fleas, mites, or any other ectoparasites which may potentially act as a vector for this deadly bacterium.
- Confine your animals indoors or inside their cages and playpens to avoid them contacting the bacterium in case of an outbreak. Let it go out while supervised and after that, check for any signs of ticks.
Being a bacterial infection, there is no vaccine for rabbit fever. Putting in place control measures is one of the only ways to ensure your furry friends do not get it.