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Tularaemia (rabbit fever)is a bacterial disease with local outbreaks every few years in Norway among hares, rabbits, rodents and particularly lemmings. Humans can become infected through direct or indirect contact with sick, dead or disease-carrying animals.
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Tularaemia can be transmitted through contaminated drinking water if rodents have drowned in the water source. Caution should be paid in areas that had a large lemming population in the previous year. The disease can also spread by bites from these animals and by inhalation of dust infected with faeces or urine.
Avoid contact with sick or dead rodents and ensure that rodents do not pollute drinking water sources. Check whether there are dead animals in wells and close any openings where small animals can enter.
Symptoms of the disease in humans
The disease usually begins with acute fever, chills, headache and fatigue. The incubation period is usually 3-5 days, but ranges from less than one day to three weeks. Information about rodent contact or residence in areas with many rodents may be an indication of tularaemia. The disease occurs in several forms depending on the means of infection. After infection through drinking water, the most common symptoms are enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, whereas infected wounds on the hands are more common following direct contact with infected animals. Antibiotics are effective, but there is no vaccine available.
Health professionals should be particularly aware of the possibility of tularaemia in people with the symptoms described above.
Tips to prevent illness:
- ensure that rodents do not pollute drinking water sources by covering wells and sealing all openings where small animals could enter
- check for dead animals in wells
- boil (or otherwise disinfect) water that could be infected by rodents
- do not sweep up rodent droppings. Clean with a damp cloth and protect hands with gloves. Infection can occur if dust from sick rodents or their faeces are inhaled
- avoid contact with sick or dead hares, rabbits or rodents. Hunters should not handle hares or rabbits that appear to be sick or are behaving abnormally
- avoid being licked by dogs and cats that have recently been in contact with dead or sick game as they may have bacteria in their mouths.