BISMARCK — A wild rabbit in central North Dakota's Sheridan County has tested positive for tularemia, also called "rabbit fever," the North Dakota Department of Health reported Tuesday.
Tularemia is a rare infectious disease that mainly affects mammals, particularly rabbits and rodents, but can also affect humans and domestic animals. It's spread a number of ways, including through direct contact with the blood or tissue of infected animals, as well as insect bites. It can be life-threatening if untreated.
A domestic cat that had contact with the rabbit's carcass was presumed positive for tularemia based on clinical signs of illness and is responding well to treatment at an animal hospital, according to the Health Department.
Tularemia occurs "sporadically" in rabbits and rodents in North Dakota, health officials said. There have been between zero and five cases yearly in the past 10 years, according to data from Michelle Dethloff with the Health Department's Division of Disease Control.
Four human cases of tularemia have been reported to the Health Department so far this year.
"Symptoms of tularemia in humans vary depending on how the infection was acquired and generally appear one to 14 days after exposure," said Laura Cronquist, an epidemiologist with the department.
Symptoms include sudden onset of fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches, joint pain, diarrhea, progressive weakness and dry cough. Tularemia can be treated with antibiotics.
Health officials recommend wearing insect repellents and long-sleeved shirts and pants to prevent insect bites that can spread tularemia and other diseases. Also, thoroughly cook game meat and avoid direct contact with sick or dead animals.