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Indiana State Department of Health

Public Health Preparedness Home > Biological Agents > Tularemia Facts About Tularemia

What is tularemia?

  • Tularemia is a bacterial infection usually found in small mammals such as mice, rats, squirrels, rabbits and hares.
  • Occasionally, water may also be contaminated.
  • People are more likely to be exposed in rural settings, although urban and suburban exposures occasionally occur.

How is tularemia spread?

  • Humans become infected through environmental exposures and can develop severe, sometimes fatal illness.
  • Infection typically occurs from bites by infected insects and ticks.
  • Infection can also occur from the handling of infectious animal tissues or fluids.
  • Direct contact with or ingestion of contaminated water, food or soil.
  • Inhalation of infective aerosols.
  • Tularemia is NOT spread from person to person.

What are the symptoms of tularemia?

  • Onset of tularemia is usually sudden, with fever, headache, chills, generalized body aches (often in lower back), runny nose, and sore throat.
  • Sweats, fever and chills, progressive weakness, loss of appetite, and weight loss characterize the continuing illness.
  • If untreated, symptoms often persist for several weeks or months usually with progressive debility.

How is tularemia diagnosed?

  • A physician’s complete and thorough physical examination and laboratory testing are necessary to confirm whether or not you have tularemia.
  • Once diagnosed, tularemia can be treated with appropriate antibiotics.
  • Treatment typically lasts at least 14 days to prevent relapse.
  • As tularemia is not transmitted person to person, there is not a need for isolation.

What are the possible complications from tularemia?

  • In untreated tularemia, symptoms often persist for several weeks and sometimes, for months, usually with progressive debility.
  • Blood infection and, rarely, meningitis may complicate any form of tularemia.

How can tularemia be prevented? 

  • Educate yourself on the proper handling of sick or dead animals, particularly when hunting, camping, or butchering; and avoid handling them if at all possible.
  • Take personal protective measures against biting insects while engaging in outdoor activities.
  • Currently, there is no vaccine available.