Mar 27, 2015 / Diagnostic Updates

Tularemia is a naturally occurring illness caused by a bacterium called Francisella tularensis. These bacteria can be found in certain animals (especially rodents, rabbits and hares).  Tularemia can cause six different forms of disease; however, approximately up to 80 percent of the cases are “ulceroglandular” (skin ulcers and swollen lymph glands) and are the result of direct contact with infected animals such as by:

  • being bitten by an infected tick, deerfly or other insect
  • handling infected bodies of dead animals
  • eating or drinking contaminated food or water; or• breathing in the bacteria, F. tularensis
  • if the tularemia bacterium is used as a weapon, it most likely would be aerosolized and released into the air. The victims would breathe in the bacteria.
  • Please note: Just because you come into contact with tularemia does not mean you will get sick from it

What happens if someone gets sick from tularemia?

The general effects for tularemia may include fever, chills, muscle pain or tenderness, and lack of energy.  There are six main types of tularemia with different effects:

  • Ulceroglandular form: Patients have a skin ulcer(s) and swollen tender glands.
  • Glandular form: Patients have swollen glands without a skin ulcer.
  • Oculoglandular form: Patients have painful, red eyes, often with a yellow discharge and crusting.  Swollen glands may occur in the jaw, neck or around the ear.
  • Oropharyngeal form: From eating undercooked infected meat, this form is associated with a sore throat, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and occasionally stomach bleeding.
  • Pneumonic form: From the inhalation of organisms or by spread from other areas of the body, patients with this form have a dry cough, difficulty breathing and sharp chest pain.
  • Typhoidal (septicemic) form:  Bacteria in the bloodstream produces fevers, chills, muscle pain or tenderness, lack of energy and weight loss.  The absence of an ulcer or swollen glands can make diagnosis difficult.