Tularemia, an extremely rare disease in humans caused by bacteria common in animals and biting insects, has been confirmed in an Iron County resident by the state Department of Health.

The disease, more commonly called rabbit fever because most known cases in humans have been linked to the handling of rabbits or eating undercooked rabbit meat, is carried by animals and insects such as ticks and mosquitoes.

Health department officials say the individual was exposed while in a rural area several miles southwest of Cedar City but had released no further details.

Because one case can mean an outbreak, county health officials have put out a call to physicians and other health-care providers in the area to check for individuals displaying symptoms associated with infection, described as flu-like but worse.

The disease is fatal in 5 percent of those who are infected but don't seek treatment; 1 percent of those who seek treatment will die from it.

The bacteria can enter the human body through the skin, can be inhaled or swallowed.

Disease symptoms usually aren't life-threatening and most are similar to having a case of pneumonia. It cannot be passed human to human, but it has several routes into the body.

Soil can be contaminated with it, and it can live in water supply systems. The common routes into the human body include mishandling blood or tissue of infected animals, the bite of an infected tick, contact with fluids from infected deer flies or ticks, or handling or eating insufficiently cooked rabbit meat.

Less common means of infection include drinking contaminated water, inhaling dust from contaminated soil or handling contaminated pelts or paws of animals.


E-mail: jthalman@desnews.com