How to avoid bacterial disease Tularemia, West Nile Virus; confirmed cases

GRAND COUNTY — Reported cases of a bacterial disease called Tularemia in the bordering county of Mesa, Colorado, adjacent to Utah’s Grand County, and mosquitoes testing positive for West Nile Virus have prompted the Southeastern Utah Heath Department and the Bureau of Land Management to warn people in the area to take precautions.

Tularemia lesion | Public domain photo, St. George News
Tularemia lesion | Public domain photo, St. George News

Tularemia and treatment

Tularemia is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. The disease mainly affects rabbits, beavers, muskrats and other wild rodents, but humans and pets can become exposed to the bacteria. Exposure typically occurs through direct contact with an infected animal (e.g. during skinning of infected game), by ingesting contaminated food or water or by being bitten by infected insects (especially ticks and deer flies).

Clinical signs in humans and animals can occur one to 10 days after exposure.

Symptoms can include any of the  following: sudden fever, chills, headaches, depression and progressive weakness, dry cough, difficulty breathing, muscle aches, joint pain, swelling of lymph nodes and occasionally vomiting and diarrhea and an infected skin ulcer at the site of infection – for example at the insect bite.

Tularemia is treatable. Contact your health care provider if you notice any of the listed symptoms.

Map shows neighboring Grand and Mesa counties at the Utah-Colorado border | Map composite derived from Google Maps; St. George News
Map shows neighboring Grand and Mesa counties at the Utah-Colorado border | Map composite derived from Google Maps; St. George News

Confirmed cases 

Tularemia has been confirmed in a second Mesa County, Colorado, woman. She was likely exposed through a bite from a deer fly or tick while on public lands in the Ruby-Horsethief section of the Colorado River in Mesa County. Two other travelers from out of the area, one adult and one child, were also diagnosed with the infection after spending time along the Colorado River around the same time period that the Mesa County residents were infected.

Tularemia is not common in Utah, but since June of this year, there have been two cases.

Colorado has seen elevated numbers of human cases of tularemia so far this year. The state confirmed 16 cases statewide in 2014 compared to 27 cases recorded this yeauir as of Aug. 14.

Precautions

While there have yet to be any confirmed cases of tularemia in Grand County, the Bureau of Land Management and Southeast Utah Health Department issued a news release this week alerting residents the potential for exposure and offering precautionary measures people can take.

“The BLM strongly encourages all visitors to areas where wildlife is active to take precautions to avoid exposure to tularemia,” Beth Ransel, BLM-Moab field manager, said, “and for those that believe they may have been exposed to seek timely medical attention.”

To avoid exposure to the bacterium Tularemia, the following precautions are recommended:

  • Do not handle or feed wild animals
  • Do not approach or pick up sick or dead animals
  • Use insect repellant with DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus
  • Wear long pants, long sleeves and long socks to keep ticks and deer flies off your skin
  • Avoid grassy and brushy areas when recreating outdoors when hiking, picnicking or during any activity that can disturb soil, causing tularemia bacteria to become airborne
  • If you need to dispose of an animal carcass on your property, wear gloves and use a long-handled shovel to place it in a garbage bag and then place the bag in an outdoor garbage can.
  • Do not handle or drink untreated water
  • Be careful when handling hunter-harvested game; wear gloves when skinning rabbits and rodents
  • Cook all meat properly at a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit inner temperature
  • Clean and disinfect all knives and equipment used to process wild game
  • Protect your pets:
    • Prevent them from hunting or eating wild animals
    • Do not feed raw game meat or inner organs to pets
    • Treat pets regularly for ectoparasites, including ticks
    • See a veterinarian if your pet becomes ill with a high fever and/or swollen lymph nodes
  • Report any increased mortalities of rabbits and rodents to the local Utah Division of Wildlife office immediately
Aedes aegypti mosquito on human skin | Public domain  photo, U.S. Department of Agriculture, St. George News
Aedes aegypti mosquito on human skin | Public domain photo, U.S. Department of Agriculture, St. George News

West Nile Virus

Earlier in August, the Southeastern Utah Health Department announced the Moab Mosquito Abatement District had mosquitoes from the Matheson Preserve test positive for West Nile Virus.

The Health Department recommended people continue to use mosquito repellent containing DEET, particularly from dusk until dawn, when mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus are active.

To reduce mosquito harborages, the Health Department asks people to remove elements that hold standing water from their properties.

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