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Deadly Rabbit Fever Makes Resurgence In U.S.

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a warning regarding a rare illness called Rabbit Fever that is making a comeback after nearly being eliminated over the past few decades.

Rabbit Fever is a bacterial infection that is usually spread to humans through direct contact with infected animals, particularly rabbits, rodents and cats. It can, however, be spread through other means, including contaminated soil and water, through fleas and ticks, and in some cases it can be airborne.

Health officials aren’t sure what’s behind the spike in cases of Rabbit Fever, which is also known as tularemia or Francisella tularensis. In 2015, nearly twice the average number of annual cases of the illness have been reported, which is the most the U.S. has seen since 1984. Prior to 1940, the disease infected as many as 2,200 people every year.

A majority of the cases this year have been centered along and east of the Rocky Mountains states, with nearly half of the cases in four states alone: Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Nebraska. Of the infected, at least one elderly man has died. Experts have speculated that above average rainfall in the region and abundant rabbit and rodent populations may be contributing factors to the illness’ resurgence.

According to Newsweek, between 2 and 24 percent of those who catch the illness will die if they don’t receive treatment early. The variations in the mortality rate are due to fact certain strains are more deadly than others. If caught in time, Rabbit Fever can be treated with antibiotics.

The government specifically monitors cases of Rabbit Fever due to its ability to be weaponized into an instrument of airborne bioterrorism. While it can be treated, the potentially fatal disease is also highly contagious and comes in many forms.

Those who contract tularemia, according to Mayo Clinic, will normally see the onset of symptoms in three to five days. The disease is unique in that the symptoms will vary greatly depending on how the bacteria enters the body. The most common form, Ulceroglandular tularemia, is characterized by skin ulcers that form around the wound following an insect or animal bite, in addition to swollen lymph glands, fever, chills, headache and exhaustion.

These symptoms may not necessarily be present in the infected because of the different forms of the disease and different symptoms each form can have. Oculoglandular tularemia, for example, will result in eye pain and swelling. Oropharyngeal tularemia, which is typically the result of consuming contaminated meat or water, can trigger throat pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.

At least six types of the illness exist, all with their own set of symptoms and all can lead to death.

The CDC has asked people to take extra care when handling animals by using gloves and applying insect repellent while outside. The CDC also warns that people should avoid coming in contact with dead animals as they may act as a “potential reservoir” for the dangerous bacteria.

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