April 16, 2014 (San Diego County) - Easter bunnies are cute and cuddly--but wild rabbits found locally may be carrying a dangerous disease known as Rabbit Fever, County health officials warn this week. The disease is carried by ticks—so it’s important to know how to protect yourself if you’re hiking or working in brushy areas.
A tick trapped in Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve has tested positive for tularemia, also known as rabbit fever. People can contract the disease from infected animals such as rabbits and rodents through direct contact with infected animals, by drinking contaminated water, by inhaling dust or through vectors such as ticks that bite an infected animal and then a person.
Ticks attach themselves to people and animals and feed on their blood. They look for hosts by “questing” — that is, by crawling up stems of grass or perching on the edge of leaves and extending their front legs so they can latch on and hitch a ride when a person or animal brushes by.
Actions you can take to protect yourself include:
- Apply a tick repellant before hiking or working in tick-infested areas.
- Stay on designated pathways when hiking; choose wide trails and walk in the center.
- Avoid grassy or brushy areas and do not handle wild rodents.
- Wear light-colored, long-sleeved clothing; tuck shirts into pants and pants into socks.
- Frequently check clothing, body and companions for ticks.
- Leave pets at home or keep them on a leash. If they haven’t already been treated with a tick and flea regimen, use insecticide powders or sprays labeled for tick control.
- Carefully and immediately remove ticks that have attached themselves. Remove embedded ticks by grabbing them with tweezers as close to the insect’s head as possible and pulling out steadily and firmly.
County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said tularemia cannot be transmitted from one person to another and it can be treated with antibiotics. However, tularemia can be serious and even deadly in rare cases. Peoople should consult their doctors immediately if they think they have contracted the disease.
Symptoms typically include swollen lymph nodes, headache, fever, and possibly skin ulcer at the site of the insect bite, fatigue, body aches and nausea. A person who develops symptoms within three weeks of visiting a tick-infested area should seek medical attention and tell their doctor that they may have come in contact with ticks.
For more information about tularemia surveillance, call the County Vector Control Program at (858) 694-2888.
For more information about ticks and surveillance, watch the video titled, “Tick Talk” at the County News Center.