A potentially deadly disease known as rabbit fever is threatening the U.S. population, according to a recent study published on Thursday, December 3, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to health authorities, so far around 235 Americans have been infected with rabbit fever (tularemia), transmitted by a bacteria known as Francisella tularensis.
As evidenced by data presented in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the most numerous cases have been reported in Colorado, while other severely affected states have been Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.
On an annual basis, about 125 instances of rabbit fever are usually recorded, and this year’s staggering number of cases is the highest that has been reported ever since 1984.
So far scientists haven’t managed to come up with a satisfying explanation regarding these strangely numerous infections that have sprung up in recent months.
One theory that has been circulated is that exceptionally abundant rainfall might have been a contributing factor, as Colorado for instance has been confronted with severe storms lately, which have triggered heavy flooding in cities such as Denver and Glendale.
Another reason for this increased prevalence of tularemia is the fact that rodent numbers have been growing significantly, and since they represent vectors for the transmission of the lethal bacteria obviously there was also a rise in the number of such infections.
Human beings can’t transmit the pathogen among each other, but can easily acquire it, following interactions with cats, rabbits or rodents that carry the bacteria.
For example, just by doing yard work or jogging through the woods, in the vicinity of infected animals, it’s possible to breathe in the microbe, whose incubation period spans across a maximum of 14 days.
While this type of airborne transmission may be the most common, another source of infection is represented by insect bites, from ticks or deer flies. Also, the bacteria can be contracted by consuming tainted food or water.
Once a person develops rabbit fever, symptoms appear in about 3 to 5 days, and consist in fever, appetite loss, chills, acute join pain, drowsiness, facial redness, myalgia and inflammation of the lymph nodes.
The infection can usually be combated using antibiotics such as streptomycin, which is the most common treatment but isn’t so easily accessible and can cause irreversible damage to the inner ear, as well as to the vestibulocochlear nerve which influences balance.
Tularemia can even be deadly, depending on the bacterial strain that has been acquired. For instance, as estimated by a study published in 2009, the A1a strain only poses a death risk to around 4% of the patients, while the B strain is associated with a 7% mortality rate.
In contrast, the type A1b strain is much more virulent, the likelihood of succumbing following such an infection having been estimated at 24%.
Given the above-mentioned risks, federal health officials recommend taking a series of pre-emptive measures so as to avoid being infected with this bacteria.
For example, people should use insect repellent and protective gloves to guard themselves against the pathogen and abstain from carrying out outdoors activities if dead animals which might have been infected with Francisella tularensis have been identified in the area.
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