By Dr. Sara Gonzalez
Spring is in the air! This means flowers, butterflies, baby bunnies, and unfortunately ticks and other ectoparasites. Tularemia and other vector-borne diseases need to be on our radar. Because tularemia is a reportable, zoonotic disease capable of transmission to your team along with your patients, this article will focus on prevention of disease spread in all of the species important to you.
Tularemia, caused by gram-negative bacillus bacteria Francisella tularensis, is endemic to many parts of the US, including Kansas. It has the potential to infect a wide variety of species, with rabbits, rodents, cats, and less frequently dogs represented. Common routes of infection for animals include the bite of a tick or ingesting an infected animal. In the clinic, we tend to see infected cats, due to their predatory nature and susceptibility. Physical exam findings of an infected animal include fever, lymph node enlargement, draining abscesses, ulcerated lesions in the oral cavity, dehydration, enlarged spleen/ liver, and jaundiced skin.
Tularemia is suspected based on history, physical exam, and laboratory findings. Treatment should be instituted immediately, as rapid treatment is essential for a favorable prognosis. Humans typically respond well to antibiotic therapy. Cats have a high chance of mortality. Confirmation in a living animal can be achieved through paired serum titers or aerobic culture of a draining abscess or lymph node aspirate. “Tularemia Suspect” should be noted on the laboratory submission form. Please call KSVDL to alert us that a sample is on its way. Ideal testing in a deceased animal is through culture of affected organs (typically the spleen) which is confirmed by the CDC. Necropsy to extract tissues should be performed with appropriate protective measures - we encourage submission of the entire animal for testing if tularemia is suspected, which decreases risk of aerosolized transmission to your team.
How can we protect our pets and staff? First, ectoparasite control is essential. Humans, along with domestic species, can be infected by a tick bite. High quality monthly preventative products for our pets and insect repellents for humans are recommended. Decreasing predation by confining hunting animals will prevent the spread of disease from ingesting diseased carcasses. When an animal suspected to have an infectious disease presents to your clinic, gloves are the first measure of control to protect from saliva and other secretions. Eye and face protection and gowning are preferred. Routine disinfectants will be effective on clinic surfaces. If you are concerned that you have been exposed or experience symptoms, contact your medical professional. Remember, tularemia is a reportable disease.
If you have questions, please contact KSVDL Client Care at 866-512-5650 or firstname.lastname@example.org.