County health officials issue alert after cat contracts tularemia, also known as 'rabbit fever'

SAN DIEGO - A cat in North County has tested positive for tularemia and county officials are urging folks to take steps to protect themselves and their pets.

Tularemia, also known as 'rabbit fever,' is a potentially dangerous bacterial disease that people can contract by being bitten by infected ticks or from touching or being bitten by an infected animal.

The cat, which was diagnosed after it became ill and was taken to a veterinarian, is in good condition. County health officials believe the cat came into direct contact with an infected animal. The cat lived in a rural area and spent time outside hunting rodents and rabbits.

The cat, and all of the people who came into contact with it, are all being treated (tularemia can be successfully treated with antibiotics).

How can you protect yourself?

"Avoid hiking in grassy, brush areas where you can come into contact with ticks," said Liz Pozzebon, health director for the county. "Don't touch wild animals, dead or alive. And call Vector Control if you come across dead rabbits or rodents that don't look like they suffered some sort of injury."

The county offered these tips as well:

  • Stay on designated pathways when hiking; choose wide trails and walk in the center
  • Avoid areas where ticks may be. Wear light-colored, long-sleeved clothing; tuck shirts into pants and pants into socks.
  • Frequently check clothing, body and companions for ticks.
  • Don't handle wild rodents.
  • Leave pets at home or keep them on a leash when hiking. If they haven’t already been treated with a tick and flea regimen, follow instructions to use insecticide spot-on applications, powders or sprays labeled for tick control. Pet owners should check with their veterinarians to determine which monthly tick control is most appropriate.
  • Carefully and immediately remove ticks that have attached themselves. Remove embedded ticks by grabbing them with forceps as close to the insect’s head as possible and pulling straight out, steadily and firmly.

For more information about tularemia, visit the Vector Control tularemia Web page; for information about tularemia surveillance, call the County Vector Control Program at (858) 694-2888 or visit the Vector Control website.

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