CHAMPAIGN — Three cats from two households in Savoy have tested positive for tularemia, or "rabbit fever," an infectious disease that has been relatively rare in Illinois.
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District said the cats were diagnosed in July and September at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.
The three cases could indicate an increased concern for the disease in the area, health officials warned.
Tularemia is caused by a bacteria found in animals, especially rodents, rabbits and hares, and cats may become infected by preying on those animals or through tick exposure, according to the health district.
Infected cats may have a high fever, mouth ulcers, depression, enlarged lymph nodes and behavioral changes that include not wanting to eat. Cats that have been outdoors and are showing these symptoms need veterinary care.
People can become infected by handling pets or wild animals with tularemia, or by being bitten by ticks or inhaling the organism, health officials said. Symptoms of the disease in people include sudden fever, chills, diarrhea, joint pain, muscle aches, cough and weakness. If you have those symptoms, see your doctor for treatment.
Tips to avoid tularemia from the health district:
— Don't allow your cat to hunt outdoors.
— Make sure your cat is protected from tick bites.
— Report any large die-offs of rodents or rabbits to local animal control officials.
— Wear tick protection outdoors.
— Don't handle or mow over sick or dead animals.
— Cook wild game meat thoroughly before eating it and use gloves when handling it beforehand.