Butler County rabbit tests positive for tularemia

FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and the Kentucky Department of Public Health (DPH) have taken action to close a 240-acre field trial facility near Morgantown in Butler County after the discovery there this week of a captive wild rabbit that tested positive for tularemia.

Tularemia, sometimes known as rabbit fever, is transmissible to people and pets and can be fatal if left untreated.

Fish and Wildlife, DPH, and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials are encouraging hunters and others who spend time outdoors in Butler County to take precautions to guard against potential exposure to tularemia, a rare but treatable bacterial disease.

The United Beagle Gundog Federation has used the Butler County property along Highway 2266 (Millshed Road) for hunting dog field trials. The property has at least three large enclosures, fenced to contain eastern cottontail rabbits, and hosts beagle field trials.

The University of Kentucky Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Lexington tested the recovered Butler County rabbit and confirmed the diagnosis of tularemia. It was one of several eastern cottontail rabbits found dead last weekend in an approximately 80-acre pen used for the field trials.

Tularemia mostly affects rabbits and rodents, including squirrels and groundhogs. It is transmissible to people. People can be exposed in a variety of ways, the most likely this time of year being a tick bite or handling an infected animal carcass. The disease can become airborne near a carcass. Cats and dogs also can be infected and become hosts for infected ticks as well.

The DPH has been working with Fish and Wildlife to assist with the investigation and encourages residents to be aware of the signs and symptoms of the disease. Tularemia in people typically develops in three to five days, but symptoms can take up to two weeks to appear, and may vary based on the type of exposure. Tularemia infection can be mistaken for other, more common illnesses, but all cases are typified by a fever as high as 104 degrees. Health care providers should be notified about any possible exposure to the disease because it can be fatal if left untreated.

The CDC recommends using insect repellent, wearing long pants, long sleeves and long socks to limit skin exposure to tick and deer flies, promptly and carefully removing any attached ticks, and avoiding drinking untreated surface water. Additional precautions are provided on the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov, by entering “tularemia” in the search box at the top of the home page.

Spring turkey and squirrel hunters in Butler County concerned about exposure to tularemia should consider wearing rubber or surgical-type gloves while handling and field dressing their game. Cook game meat thoroughly before eating. Kentucky’s spring squirrel season opens May 19 and continues through June 15.