A cat in San Marcos tested positive for tularemia —”rabbit fever” — a potentially dangerous bacterial disease that is spread to people by ticks, county officials reported Tuesday.
Officials of the county Vector Control Program said the cat was diagnosed after it became ill and was taken to a veterinarian, who contacted the county to conduct tests on it.
No other pets in the cat’s area showed signs of the disease, county officials said. Since the diagnosis, county employees have monitoring the area for ticks and sick or dead rabbits.
Tularemia can be successfully treated with antibiotics. The cat, which is in good condition, and people who came into contact with it are all being treated.
County officials urge people to take simple steps to protect themselves and their pets.
“Avoid hiking in grassy, brushy areas where you can come into contact with ticks,” county Department of Environmental Health Director Liz Pozzebon said. “Don’t touch wild animals, dead or alive. And call vector control if you come across dead rabbits or rodents that don’t look like they suffered some sort of injury.”
Officials said the cat was thought to have contracted the disease by coming into direct contact with an infected wild animal, because it lived in a rural area, spent time outside and hunted rodents and rabbits.
The most common way people become exposed to tularemia is through the bite of infected ticks, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, people can also become infected by touching infected animals, being bitten by them, or by drinking or inhaling contaminated water, dust or aerosols.
San Diego County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said tularemia cannot be transmitted from one person to another. She said that when people become infected, symptoms typically include fever, swollen lymph nodes, headache, possibly skin ulcers at the site of the insect bite, fatigue, body aches and nausea.
In extreme cases, people can develop coughs, chest pain and have trouble breathing.
Actions people can take to protect themselves and their pets include:
- Staying on designated pathways when hiking; choose wide trails and walk in the center
- Avoiding grassy or brushy areas where ticks may be. Wear light- colored, long-sleeved clothing; tuck shirts into pants and pants into socks.
- Frequently checking clothing, body and companions for ticks
- Not handling wild rodents
The county also advises people who go hiking leave pets at home or on a leash. Pet owners should check with their veterinarians to determine which monthly tick control is most appropriate.
— City News Service