By Staff Sgt. Debbie Lockhart
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
Last week, a rabbit in El Paso County died of a tularemia infection prompting El Paso County Public Health to urge its residents to use caution when around wild animals.
“Tularemia is a bacterial infection most commonly transmitted to humans by the handling of sick or dead animals infected with tularemia,” said Tech. Sgt. Kit Atchison, NCO in charge of Force Health Management.
Schriever Air Force Base is located within El Paso County, but has not been affected by the tularemia infection.
“We’ve had a rabbit and prairie dog overpopulation problem on base for over a year,” said David Barnett, 50th Civil Engineer Squadron supervisory engineering technician.
The 21st Medical Group’s Public Health Office and the 50 CES Environmental Flight strongly encourage base personnel and residents not to play with, feed or touch rabbits and other wild animals on base.
“Leave the wild animals alone and please don’t feed the critters, you’ll just make more problems,” said Barnett.
This infection, also known as “Rabbit Fever,” is most commonly found in animals, but an estimated 200 human cases are reported to the Centers for Disease Control each year.
“It isn’t the animal itself that could cause problems, it is the fleas they carry,” said Barnett.
Tularemia can be spread to humans by handling infected animal carcasses, eating or drinking contaminated food or water or breathing in the bacteria.
“Most people who get tularemia have been bitten by an infected tick, deer fly or other insect,” said Atchison.
Symptoms of tularemia typically include: sudden fever, chills, headaches, diarrhea, muscle aches, joint pain and dry cough. However, depending on how a person is exposed symptoms can also include: ulcers on the skin or mouth, swollen and painful lymph glands, eyes and a sore throat.
“Symptoms usually appear within three to five days, but could take up to 14 days,” said Atchison.
If someone notices they are experiencing these symptoms they should immediately contact their medical advisor via the Access to Care Line at 719-524-CARE(2273); according to Senior Airman Tympany Mileger, 21st MDG Public Health Office.
“As long as the symptoms are caught early and the right medication is prescribed, tularemia is treatable,” said Mileger.
It is important to take precautions to protect yourself and your family from possible infection.
“Do not handle sick animals, if a dead animal must be moved and it is on base, contact Civil Engineering. When outdoors, leash your pets and keep them away from dead animals,” said Atchison. “When outdoors where there are wild animals and rodents, wear insect repellent containing DEET.”
If an injured or dead animal is found on the installation, call the CE service call desk at 567-2300. However, if it is found within the housing area, call the Tierra Vista Communities office at 683-3660.
“When in doubt with any critter or pest problem, report it,” said Barnett.