URBANA — A cat in Urbana was recently diagnosed with tularemia, a disease caused by bacteria that can potentially spread from animals or ticks to people, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District said Friday.

The bacteria, francisella tularensis, can be passed to people through the skin if they handle infected animals or if they inhale contaminated dust or aerosols, especially during outdoor activities such as farming or lawn mowing. People can also become infected if they are bitten by infected ticks.

The disease in people can come without symptoms or be life-threatening. Symptoms in people can include a sudden onset of fever, chills, headache and fatigue following the incubation period, which can range from two to 10 days, health officials said.

Tularemia, also called “rabbit fever,” has been known to sicken rabbits, muskrats, prairie dogs and other rodents, but domestic cats are “very susceptible” and have been known to transmit the bacteria to people, the health district said.

Symptoms in cats can include a high fever, mouth ulcers, depression, enlarged lymph nodes and anorexia.

To avoid infections in cats, health officials advise not allowing them to hunt outdoors, making sure they are protected from tick bites and reporting any unexplained die-offs of rabbits or rodents to the health district. The health district is also advising using two plastic trash bags and wearing gloves if you need to remove a dead rabbit from your yard. If a shovel is used, disinfect it afterward by placing it in a bucket of water with 1 cup of bleach per gallon of water and letting it sit a half-hour.

The health district is further cautioning the use of tick protection when outdoors and avoiding mowing over sick or dead animals or handling any wild animals.

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