Delta County Sees First Human Case Of Tularemia, Health Officials Concerned

Jun 23, 2015

A Delta County man is recovering after contracting tularemia. Although it’s the first reported case of the disease on the Western Slope this year, health officials are concerned.

Last year in Colorado 16 people were diagnosed with tularemia.

That's the second highest number of cases in Colorado since 1983 when there were 20 cases, according to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

Tularemia is caused by bacteria found in the environment. It’s contracted through cuts, insect bites, handing infected animals, eating or drinking contaminated food of water, or by inhaling it.
Credit NRCS Soil Health

"In the past year we’ve actually had an upsurge in the number of human cases," said Jennifer House, a state public health veterinarian. "In typical year we only get one to two cases."

So far this year, 11 people have contracted the disease.

Health officials said one of the most recent cases involves a Delta County man who likely got exposed to it while excavating dirt on his property.

The state is also seeing reports of dogs and cats getting the disease. People and animals can catch it in the same way. 

Tularemia is caused by bacteria found in the environment.

It’s contracted through cuts, insect bites, handing infected animals, eating or drinking contaminated food of water, or by inhaling it.

The illness can cause high fever, swollen lymph nodes, skin ulcers, upset stomach, and respiratory problems. However, it can be treated with antibiotics. 

Public health officials say people can help protect themselves from the disease by wearing gloves when gardening or working with soil, using a mask and wearing closed-toed shoes when mowing or doing yard work, avoiding contact with wild animals or rodents, wearing insect repellent, and not allowing your pets to eat or hunt wild animals.

Editor's Note: This story was updated for clarity and to reflect newly released state data.