A rare disease that was thought to be eliminated is returning, as the CDC reports rabbit fever is back and on the rise in the U.S., though it’s not certain why. The illness was thought to be mostly gone within the past decades, yet it seems it’s being brought back to the table. The extreme weather may be a reason for it.
Rabbit Fever Has A Long History
Before 1940, there were around 2,200 cases of rabbit fever found per year. However, the numbers dropped significantly by 1984, falling to an average of just 125 annual cases. It seems that it was disappearing from concerns, but this year there has been a worrying increase.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that this year alone, there have been 235 cases. This is the most the United States has seen in three decades, and more than half of them occurred in just four states. Until September 30th of this year, Colorado saw 43 cases of rabbit fever, Nebraska with 21, South Dakota with 20, and Wyoming with 16 cases. It’s not well determined yet why this spike occurred.
Rabbit fever, otherwise known as tularemia, is caused by a bacteria called Francisella tularensis. The rare disease is often carried and transmitted by animals such as rabbits, cats or rodents. It can be contracted through normal contact, but may also be inhaled very easily. By simply passing above an animal with the bacteria while running or mowing the lawn, the bacteria will be breathed in and start the disease.
It may also be spread by ticks or deerflies through bite.
Symptoms of tularemia include sudden fever, chills, joint pain, muscle pain, respiratory issues, stomach problems, conjunctivitis, and swollen glands. In some cases, it may also present itself with skin lesions. These often start to occur between 3-5 days after coming into contact with the infected animal. However, it may even take up to 14 days.
Between 7-24% of cases are fatal
Luckily, not all strains of the bacteria are fatal, but some of them are. There are three potentially deadly strains. The A1b bacteria strain has a fatality rate of 24% of cases, the B strain results in death in 7% of the cases, and the A1a strain has a smaller rate of just 4%. This year, the disease claimed one victim, an older man who perished after coming into contact with the bacteria.
However, if caught early, rabbit fever is easily treatable with antibiotics after a simple blood test. And yet, the CDC warns people to wear gloves when handling the aforementioned animals, just to be safe. The bacteria may also linger in dead bodies, and the population should stay away from the potentially infected carcasses.
It’s not sure yet what caused such a dramatic increase in numbers, but health officials believe the extreme weather might’ve had something to do with it. Flash floods could have encouraged the population of rabbits and rats to thrive, along with containing the bacteria in the soil. It might not be the best choice to buy a rabbit this Christmas.
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