C-U health officials confirm case of tularemia

C-U health officials confirm case of tularemia

CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District confirmed Thursday there has been one human case of the rare infectious disease tularemia in Champaign County.

Officials declined to say whether the case involved Kenneth Walker, 50, of Savoy, who died on Aug. 1. Mr. Walker's obituary stated he died after a short battle with tularemia and its complications.

Cases of tularemia — which most often results from direct contact with infected animals — have numbered in the handfuls statewide in recent years. There were just four cases in 2012 and five in 2011, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The local public health district issued warnings in 2011 and again in June 2013 about keeping cats indoors to reduce the chances of getting tularemia, because cats can prey on sick rabbits and rodents and become infected.

There have been cats in the Champaign-Urbana area diagnosed with tularemia in 2011, 2012 and 2013, according to the health district.

Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Administrator Julie Pryde said contact with cats and rabbits isn't the only tularemia threat, and she advised also being careful outdoors to reduce other chances of picking up the infection.

Tularemia — also known as rabbit fever — can't be spread from person-to-person, but it can be spread through tick and deer fly bites.

Other ways to become infected include handling a dead infected animal; eating or drinking contaminated food and or water; or breathing in the bacteria that causes the illness, Francisella tularensis.

People might breathe in the bacteria in contaminated dust and aerosols, Pryde said. Some people have also been known to get it running over a dead infected animal with the lawn mower, she said.

"There are lots of ticks out and lots of mosquitoes out this time of year. We know they carry a lot of diseases," she said.

There are six types of sickness from tularemia, with 80 percent of cases resulting from direct contact with infected animals, causing skin ulcers and swollen tender glands. Other forms can cause such symptoms as a dry cough, difficulty breathing and sharp chest pain, fever, chills, muscle pain or tenderness, lack of energy and painful red eyes.

Untreated, tularemia is fatal 5 to 15 percent of the time, but with the right antibiotic treatment, the fatality rate is 1 percent, according to the state public health department.

Health experts advise this isn't a disease to wait and see about. If it's suspected, call your health care provider and local public health department immediately.

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