Surge in rabbit population could be a health risk Email

Is your crew aware of the safety risks involved in contact with wildlife? Are they taking the necessary measures to keep themselves out of danger?

It’s important that your employees understand how to avoid tularemia infection. Also known, as “rabbit fever,” tularemia can be carried by more than just bunnies. Prairie dogs, mice, and squirrels can also carry the disease. While infection is rare, the risk should be taken seriously.

Home gardeners and landscape workers have all noticed the surging rabbit population this year. Whatever the cause, bunnies seem to be everywhere, and this could put people at risk while they work on the landscape.

Jefferson County Public Health recently reported a dead rabbit infected with the disease, and Larimer County confirmed a human case of tularemia. The cause was linked to gardening at home.

The infection is often spread through bites from infected insects such as ticks and deer flies. Theurine and droppings of infected animals can survive in soil for weeks and spread to humans through gardening activities or inhaling dust. Touching an infected dead animal without proper protection can also lead to infection.

Symptoms
Symptoms may vary according to where on the body the person became infected. Fever, non-healing skin and swollen and painful lymph nodes are among them. Others include sore throat, mouth sores, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Inhaled bacteria may cause pneumonia and related symptoms.

Antibiotics are effective in treating the infection with best results when treated as soon as possible. Without treatment, hospitalization or death may result.

Precautions 

  • Avoid attracting rabbits and other rodents into your yard or patio by providing food and try to eliminate places where they can live or hide.
  • Avoid contact with all sick or dead animals and report them to the local health department.
  • Notice any changes in pet behavior and consult a veterinarian. To avoid infecting yourself, do not handle pets that are acting unusual without gloves and face protection.
  • When gardening or doing other outdoor activities, wear clothing that covers arms and legs. Jefferson County Public Health recommends applying insect repellent containing DEET to exposed skin and insect repellent containing permethrin to clothing.
  • Wear a mask while mowing. According to CDC, “Humans can acquire tularemia by inhaling dust or aerosols contaminated with F. tularensis bacteria. This can occur during farming or landscaping activities, especially when machinery (e.g. tractors or mowers) runs over infected animals or carcasses. This is rare, but it can result in one of the most serious forms of the disease.”
  • If you become ill 3 to 5 days after an outdoor activity, see your doctor.

For more information on tularemia in your area and recommended precautions, consult your local health department's website. You can also learn more at https://www.cdc.gov/tularemia/index.html

Read more in this issue of Colorado Green NOW:
Teach your crew to steer clear of unknown animals--and rabies exposure
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How Kimberly Jewell took on the Colorado legislature

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