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Colorado Sees 2nd Highest Number Of Rabbit Fever Cases Since 1983

DENVER (CBS4) - State health officials on Wednesday announced that there have been 11 human cases of of tularemia in Colorado since May of this year.

Tularemia is also known as rabbit fever. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 16 human cases were reported in 2014. This year's 11 is the second highest number of cases in Colorado since 1983 when there were 20 cases.

"People can get tularemia if they handle infected animals, such as rabbits, rodents or hares, or are bitten by ticks or deer flies. They also can be exposed by touching contaminated soil, drinking contaminated water or inhaling bacteria," Mark Salley with CDPHE said in a statement.

Two recent cases were reported in Weld County. One of the two infected men remains hospitalized. Health officials said he's in an intensive care unit. The other man is recovering at home.

"As you're getting ready to mow, see if there are any carcasses. Dispose of those animals so you don't mow over them and increase your risk of tularemia," Marshall Lipps with Boulder County Public Health said.

Salley said tularemia often is overlooked as a diagnosis because it's rare and the symptoms are similar to other diseases.

"Anyone who becomes ill after exposure to a sick or dead animal should talk to a health care provider about the possibility of tularemia," Salley said.

It's treatable with antibiotics.

"Symptoms of tularemia include abrupt onset of fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, vomiting, dry cough and difficulty breathing. Other symptoms are skin ulcers, swollen and painful lymph glands, inflamed eyes, sore throat, mouth sores, diarrhea or pneumonia," Salley said.

Additional Information From The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

To avoid exposure to tularemia, state Public Health Veterinarian Jennifer House recommends people:

• Wear gloves while gardening or landscaping, and wash your hands after these activities.
• Use a dust mask when mowing or doing yard work. Do not mow over animal carcasses.
• Do not go barefoot or wear sandals while gardening, mowing or landscaping.
• Dispose of animal carcasses by using a long-handled shovel to place them in a garbage bag. Put the bag in an outdoor garbage can.
• Wear an insect repellent effective against ticks, biting flies and mosquitoes when hiking, camping or working outdoors. Effective repellants contain 20 to 30 percent DEET, picaridin or IR3535.
• Do not drink unpurified water from streams or lakes or allow your pets to drink surface waters.
• Prevent pets from hunting or eating wild animals. Contact a veterinarian if your pet becomes ill with a high fever and/or swollen lymph nodes.

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