State issues tularemia alert

Posted: Sunday, June 29, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) State officials have issued a tularemia alert after a snowshoe hare found dead in Fairbanks was diagnosed with the disease, which can be fatal to humans.

Tularemia is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted from hares and rodents to people.

An 8-year-old boy who was playing with the snowshoe hare before it died earlier this month has not shown any signs of tularemia at this point, said wildlife veterinarian Kimberlee Beckmen with the Department of Fish and Game.

Symptoms include skin ulcers, fever, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, muscle weakness and pneumonia.

''The organism that causes tularemia is one of the organisms on the bioterrorist list,'' Beckmen told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''It can be used as a biochemical warfare agent.''

Officials are warning people not to touch any dead hares or hares that appear lethargic or unafraid, the typical signs of tularemia.

While tularemia is not an annual problem, outbreaks of the disease are not uncommon in the Interior.

The disease is transmitted to humans through the skin by handling sick hares or by insect bites from ticks, flies or mosquitoes that have fed on sick hares.

Another sick hare has been reported in the same area and two other dead hares have been reported in Salcha. Although those animals have not been tested for tularemia there's a good chance that's what killed them, said Cathie Harms at Fish and Game.

Dogs and cats also are susceptible to tularemia by eating infected hares or rodents or being bitten by infected insects. The symptoms in dogs and cats include lethargy, fever, loss of appetite and bad breath.

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