FAIRBANKS - Two Fairbanks residents have been diagnosed with tularemia, a potentially fatal bacterial infection more commonly found in pets.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game veterinarian Kimberlee Beckmen learned of the outbreak from state public health authorities late last week. The disease can be transmitted to humans from snowshoe hares, and the hare population has been high in the Interior this summer.
"People can be infected and it's not unheard of, but it's unusual," Fish and Game spokeswoman Cathe Harms said.
It's unclear how the Fairbanks residents contracted it.
Beckmen, in an e-mail to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, said people are usually infected through the skin by handling sick hares, beavers or muskrats, but they can be infected by insect bites from ticks, flies or mosquitoes that have fed on sick hares.
The disease can also be transmitted through water contaminated by a dead animal carcass, consuming undercooked meat of hares or rodents, or inhaling dust or soil contaminated by the animal's droppings.
Symptoms of tularemia in humans include skin ulcers, fever, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, muscle weakness and pneumonia. The disease can be fatal, but Harms said the two Fairbanks patients were treated with antibiotics and are doing well.
Dogs and cats are usually exposed when bitten by a tick or hunting sick rodents and rabbits. Common signs of tularemia in pets are lethargy, fever and not eating, and sometimes swollen lymph glands.
Beckmen advised people not to handle hares that appear lethargic or apathetic. If you find a dead hare on your property, do not touch it with your hands - wear gloves. Secure the dead hare in a spot where pets and scavengers won't get at it.
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