What Are the Different Symptoms of Tularemia?

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  • Written By: L. Whitaker
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 09 August 2019
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Common symptoms of tularemia range from flu-like complaints to respiratory distress or site-specific reactions, depending on how the illness was transmitted. In many cases, symptoms of tularemia appear similar to signs of flu, such as a sudden onset of fever accompanied by joint pain, chills, diarrhea, headache, coughing, or muscle aches. Cases that occur through exposure to the mouth, eyes, or skin could demonstrate symptoms specific to these areas of the body. On average, symptoms of tularemia appear within five days of exposure to the bacteria, although in some cases the symptoms could arise two to three weeks later. Tularemia is sometimes known as deerfly fever or rabbit fever, due to two common transmittal methods.

If bacterial exposure happened through an insect bite or break in the skin, the result could be a rash, skin ulcer, or swollen lymph nodes. Exposure through ingesting contaminated liquids or food can produce symptoms related to the oral region or digestive system, such as pain in the stomach, diarrhea, vomiting, mouth ulcers, or a sore throat. Inhaling the tularemia-causing bacteria could produce respiratory symptoms, including bloody mucus, chest pain, or difficulty breathing. If left untreated, symptoms of tularemia can develop into severe respiratory distress or even respiratory failure.


An individual who displays symptoms of tularemia should be evaluated by a medical professional as soon as possible. Symptoms are typically treated with an antibiotic such as gentamicin or streptomycin. Many cases result in full recovery when appropriate medical treatment is administered. Once an individual has recovered from tularemia, it is rare for the same person to become infected a second time.

Tularemia is spread through exposure to a bacteria called Francisella tularensis, which is often found in live animals such as rabbits and squirrels in addition to existing in animal carcasses, water, or mud. It can also be transmitted to humans through mosquito, tick, or fly bites. Another possibility is to breathe the tularemia bacteria via exposure to infected grains or dust. Tularemia does not spread from person to person.

Individuals can avoid infection by the tularemia bacteria through careful preventive measures. Prevent insect bites by using insect repellants on skin and clothing. Hand washing and thorough cooking of food can help avoid infection from animal carcasses. Rubber gloves can be worn by individuals who must handle wild creatures, particularly rabbits. Avoid drinking untreated water that could be contaminated with the tularemia bacteria.


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