ELKHART CO. — The Department of Natural Resources released Monday that an unidentified amount of rabbit carcasses found on private property in Elkhart County, near Middlebury, tested positive for tularemia.
Tularemia is a bacterial disease that affects both domestic and wild rabbits.
The disease is usually transmitted through dog tick and deer fly bites or by contact with an infected animal, according to the DNR. It can also be spread by contact with contaminated soil or water, and through inhalation of contaminated specks of dust or aerosols. Signs of tularemia in wild animals include lethargy, ulcers, abscesses, and white lesions on internal organs.
Although tularemia is not an unusual virus, it can only be differentiated from another deadly disease known as "Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus type 2" (RHDV2) through laboratory testing. RHDV2 is a virus that is currently threatening both wild and domestic rabbit populations in Washington, New York City, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, California and Utah.
RHDV2 has not been detected in Indiana, the State Board of Animal Health confirms, but they're keeping tabs on the Indiana rabbit population.
BOAH asks that any Hoosiers who see rabbits unexplainably dead, that they report it to the state.
The RHDV2 is not fatal to human health but is highly contagious for domestic and wild rabbits.
Tularemia, on the other hand, can be transmitted to humans. The Indiana Department of Health says it is not aware of any human cases of tularemia in the Elkhart County area at this time.
Pets, such as cats and dogs, are also susceptible to tularemia, according to BOAH, and may exhibit signs such as anorexia, fever, depression, enlarged lymph nodes, and abscesses if the virus was contracted.
“Seeing a local die-off of rabbits during a tularemia outbreak is not unusual,” Dr. Jennifer Brown, the state public health veterinarian at IDOH, stated. “You can prevent exposure to tularemia bacteria by wearing insect repellent and avoiding contact with sick or dead animals.”
IDOH says people who contract tularemia can be treated with antibiotics. Signs of this virus include fever or respiratory symptoms within two weeks of potential exposure to sick or dead rabbits, tick bites, aerosols of dust from soil or grasses from mowing, raking, plowing, or similar activities.