Rita Landgraf, Secretary
Jill Fredel, Director of Communications
302-255-9047, Pager 302-357-7498
Date: October 7, 2011
On Oct. 6, the Delaware Public Health Laboratory confirmed Delaware's first case of tularemia since 2003, in a 45 year-old Kent County man. The man is hospitalized and responding to treatment. Although Delaware has not reported a case of tularemia in eight years, each year an estimated 125 to 150 cases are reported nationwide.
Tularemia is associated with tick bites and is not spread person to person. Domestic cats are very susceptible to tularemia and have been known to transmit the bacteria to humans. Humans can become infected by handling infected animal tissue when hunting or skinning infected rabbits, muskrats and other rodents; by inhaling dust or aerosols contaminated with the bacteria, such as during farming or landscaping activities, especially when tractors or mowers run over an infected animal or carcass. The disease can also be transmitted by drinking untreated water contaminated with the bacteria introduced by animal contact.
Symptoms of tularemia usually appear three to five days after exposure to the bacteria, but can take as long as 14 days. Symptoms may include: sudden fever, chills, headaches, diarrhea, muscle aches, joint pain, dry cough and progressive weakness. People can also develop pneumonia with chest pain, cough and difficulty breathing. Other symptoms of tularemia depend upon how the person was exposed. These symptoms can include ulcers on the skin or in the mouth, swollen and painful lymph glands, swollen and painful eyes and a sore throat.
Anyone exposed to tularemia should be treated as soon as possible since the disease can be fatal. Because the disease is difficult to diagnose, it is important to share with your health care provider any likely exposures, such as tick and deer fly bites, or contact with sick or dead animals. Blood tests and cultures can help confirm the diagnosis. Delaware laboratories and healthcare providers are required to report any diagnosed case of tularemia to the Division of Public Health's Bureau of Epidemiology.
"Preventing tick bites is the best way to protect yourself from tularemia," said Dr. Karyl Rattay, DPH director. "Use insect repellent containing DEET on your skin, or treat clothing with repellent containing permethrin, to prevent insect bites." In addition, use care and wear gloves when handling sick or dead animals. Be sure to cook food thoroughly and that your water is from a safe source. Note any change in the behavior of your pets (especially rodents and rabbits) or livestock, and consult a veterinarian if they develop unusual symptoms.
For more information, see www.cdc.gov/tularemia/faq/ or call DPH's Bureau of Epidemiology at 1-888-295-5156.
Delaware Health and Social Services is committed to improving the quality of the lives of Delaware's citizens by promoting health and well-being, fostering self-sufficiency, and protecting vulnerable populations.