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Last Updated

24 May 2003

Source: Bozman Daily Chronicle (MT), May 24, 2003

Case of tularemia found in Madison County cat

By KAYLEY MENDENHALL, Chronicle Staff Writer

A Madison County house cat was recently diagnosed with tularemia, a somewhat rare and infectious disease.

"It happens now and then, that cats get this," Jim Murphy, of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, said Friday. "It's a sign that people need to be careful about contact with rodents and ticks."

Tularemia, also known as "rabbit fever," is usually transmitted through flea and tick bites, Murphy said. It is naturally occurring in the United States, but is also on the list of bioterrorism agents that public health experts worry about.

Ennis veterinarian Michael White said he was suspicious the cat had tularemia because it was lethargic, had no appetite, had a high fever and enlarged lymph nodes.

He isolated the cat, began treating it with antibiotics and sent blood samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratory in Fort Collins, Colo.

Test results were positive for tularemia, but thanks to treatment, White said the cat is alive and well. Without antibiotics, tularemia can cause respiratory failure and death.

"We'll probably never really know how this cat got it," White said. "The strong likelihood is that it caught something that had it and ate it."

Tularemia can be transmitted through a bite from cat to human, but that's unlikely, Murphy said. However, if an animal has fleas or ticks that are carrying the disease, those insects could bite and infect humans.

"Humans are usually going to get it from the ticks or the fleas that give it to the cat," Murphy said. "It's one of those things to remind humans to keep fleas and ticks off of pets and reduce their risk of exposure to rodents."

About 200 cases of tularemia are reported in humans in the United States each year, according to the CDC Web site. If people suspect tularemia in their animals or themselves, they should seek immediate medical attention.

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