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Jefferson County Health Officials Warn About 'Rabbit Fever'

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) - Health officials in Jefferson County are warning the public to stay away from sick or dead rabbits because they may have "rabbit fever," a disease that can infect humans.

It's a disease of rabbits and beavers and rodents. It can be life-threatening in people, but if proper precautions are taken, the chances of getting it are pretty low.

Dave Volkel has been hunting for rabbits, but not just any rabbits.

"We're looking for dead rabbits," Volkel said.

If he finds one he'll bag it and drop it in his cooler.

"I've got some ice that will keep it from going bad," he said.

Volkel is an environmental health specialist with Jefferson County Public Health. He's looking for rabbit carcasses to take to a lab for testing. He wants to see if the rabbits are dying from tularemia, a bacterial disease, which he says is common.

"We get cases in animals almost every year," Volkel said.

But this year health officials are warning humans. "Rabbit fever" can be passed on if people handle sick or dead bunnies or if they're bitten by an infected tick or flea. So far there are no confirmed human cases in Jefferson County.

"We had a rabbit from the southern part of the county near the town of Bow Mar that tested positive for tularemia," Volkel said.

(credit: CBS)

Volkel is checking the area around South Table Mountain Park because of reports of dead rabbits.

"We're looking for any evidence that there might be rabbits in the holes."

Volkel says "rabbit fever" can be prevented by avoiding exposure. Use insect repellent, and when coming across a bunny or any wild animal, no matter how adorable, leave it alone.

Tularemia does not spread from person to person. Symptoms can include high fever, swollen lymph nodes and a sore at the site where bacteria entered the body. It should be treated early with the right antibiotics.

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