Skip to main content


tularemia infection 

Tularemia is a potentially serious illness, but it is rare in British Columbia (BC) (0-2 cases per year). In BC and Canada, wild and domestic animals can carry the bacteria that causes tularemia, especially beavers, hares, muskrats, rabbits, and rodents. People infected with tularemia do not spread the disease to other people or animals. Other names for tularemia include rabbit fever, deer-fly fever, Ohara disease, and Francis disease.

Information for Health Professionals

Tularemia is a potentially serious infection which occurs naturally in Canada. It is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis, and is transmitted to humans: 
  • Through the bite of Dermacentor ticks or sometimes deer flies
  • By handling infected animals such as rodents and rabbits
  • By handling the carcasses of infected animals
  • By getting the bacteria into the eyes, nose, mouth, or open wound
  • By eating the undercooked meat of infected animals
  • By inhaling dust from contaminated soil or plants
  • By drinking contaminated water

Symptoms vary depending on how the person was exposed, and include:

  • Ulcers on the skin or mouth
  • Swollen and painful lymph glands 
  • Sudden fever
  • Chills
  • Headache 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Muscle aches 
  • Dry coughs 
  • Progressive weakness 
  • Joint pain 
  • Sore throat 
  • Swollen and red eyes
Symptoms usually appear 3 to 5 days after exposure to the bacteria but can take as long as 14 days. People can also develop pneumonia. Severe forms of tularemia can be fatal if not treated appropriately. 

People who think they have been exposed to tularemia should monitor themselves for symptoms for up to 14 days (2 weeks) after the last exposure and see a physician if they develop symptoms (see above).

Diagnosis is made by identifying the clinical signs and confirming the diagnosis by a lab test. Different laboratory methods include: 

  • Nucleic acid test
  • Serology testing
  • Culture of affected body site (e.g throat, sputum, lymph node, ulcer)

Tularemia can be treated with antibiotics. Awareness and avoidance are best to prevent this disease. If tularemia is diagnosed or suspected, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to ensure best results. 

Symptoms of tularemia in pocket pets like hamsters, gerbils, degues and chinchillas depend on the animal species. Infected rabbits often show no sign of disease. In rabbits that do develop symptoms and in rodents, the symptoms may include:
  • Lethargy 
  • Reduced feeding 
  • Weakness
  • Rough hair coat 
  • Reluctance to move 
  • Increased rate of breath 
  • Fever 
  • Swollen lymph glands 
  • Ulcers 
  • Sudden death
Note any change in the behaviour of your pets (especially rodents, rabbits and hares) or livestock, and consult a veterinarian if they develop unusual symptoms. Animals can acquire infection through tick bites and by contact with contaminated environments. Infected animals can transmit the infection to other animals by biting, scratching or by direct exposure to infected rodent waste or nesting materials contaminated with infected rodent waste.

Consult your veterinarian and be sure to let them know why you think your pet may have tularemia. If you have concerns about your own personal health speak to a health care provider. 

If you are concerned your pet may have tularemia and your pet is sick or dies:
  • Wear rubber gloves when handling it. Commercially available dishwashing gloves that have no tears are adequate.
  • Remember to wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap after removing your gloves and after every contact with the sick animal or its environment.
  • Remove nesting material in a manner that minimizes aerosolization of particles.
  • Clean the cage and animal accessories in hot soapy water using any commercially available household disinfectant. Rinse the cage in a 10% bleach solution (one part household bleach, nine parts water). Let the cage air dry for at least 10 minutes and rinse again with water to counteract the corrosive action of bleach on metal cages.
  • If your pet dies, double bag it and dispose of it in the garbage or bury it deep enough (1 metre) that it will not be dug up by other animals. You may also consider incinerating the body.
If you believe your pet may have been ill or died from tularemia, you should monitor yourself for symptoms for up to 14 days (2 weeks) after your last contact with your pet and see a physician if you develop any of the symptoms described above.

Find more information about prevention of tularemia on the main tick-borne diseases page. 

SOURCE: Tularemia ( )
Page printed: . Unofficial document if printed. Please refer to SOURCE for latest information.

Copyright © BC Centre for Disease Control. All Rights Reserved.

    Copyright © 2024 Provincial Health Services Authority.