The Hidden Danger of Tularemia in 3 Minutes
Many of us feel the decision to raise rabbits as a renewable protein source is genius! It’s not surprising… Preppers are a clever bunch. But with the recent explosion of rabbit ranching are bound to come certain diseases. I’m talking specifically about a viscous little bacteria named after its discoverer: Francisella tularensis – known more commonly as Tularemia.
What is Tularemia?
Tularemia is a disease of animals and humans caused by a small and somewhat rare bacterium. You may have never heard of it. It’s uncommon these days, with only an occasional outbreak here and there. But because its mortality rate is so high, it garners the attention of national press when one occurs.
How do Preppers Get Tularemia?
Rabbits are not the only way a prepper can be exposed to Tularemia. Dog ticks, wood ticks, deer flies and an assortment of other vectors can also transmit the disease. But Preppers need to be most worried about the possibility of the rabbits they’re raising becoming infected – as well as those they’ve hunted and trapped.
General Signs and Symptoms
Typically occurring when one is skinning and cleaning an infected animal; the bacteria usually causes either a skin or a lung infection in humans. It all depends on how the bacteria enters the body. Infections can range from mild to life-threatening. Some forms are more deadly than others, but all are accompanied by fever which can be as high as 104 °F. The two forms Preppers should be concerned most about are shown below:
This is the skin and lymph node form, and it’s the most common. Thankfully, it’s also the least deadly. But the tradeoff is it’s exceptionally easy to catch while skinning an infected animal. It leads to non-healing skin ulcers which are quickly followed by enormously swollen regional lymph nodes.
In this ulceroglandular form, a skin ulcer appears at the site where the organism entered the body. Swelling of regional lymph glands can occur in the neck, but is most commonly seen in the armpits and groin.
This is the most serious form, and occurs when you inhale the organism. Known as Pneumonic Tularemia, symptoms include cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Typically this happens when a person inadvertently aerosolizes the organism while skinning the infected critter. Though a few years back, several people became sick in Martha’s Vineyard when someone biffed a dead one with their lawnmower. Part of the rabbit shot into nearby water source, and several people became sick from drinking it. Others developed Pneumonic Tularemia from the aerosol created by the lawnmower’s “blender” action. Of the 17 people infected in that incident, 2 died – and that was with I.V. antibiotic treatment.
Tularemia as a Bioweapon
Some infections require a large number of bacteria enter a person before making them ill. But Tularemia is not one of them. For this and a few other technical reasons, Tularemia was investigated as a potential biological weapon in WWI. It was to be placed in small bomblets, like the one shown below, and dropped from aircraft. Aerosolized in this manner, only a few hundred bacteria would need to be inhaled by a person to kill them. (A few hundred of most types of bacteria we routinely encounter normally do nothing to us.) It’s believed by some this research continues to present.
Not everyone will be raising rabbits, but many will hunt wild ones. Rabbits, rats, domestic cats, and many others can all harbor the bacteria. Infections from wild game occur in a predictable summer seasonal pattern:
When to Hunt
Many hunters will wait until after the first freeze to hunt rabbit, especially in the Mid-South, where the disease is heavily concentrated. Locals report most of the sick ones die off with the freeze, and those that make it through – run away very slowly. “Don’t shoot the slow ones son” is a memorable morsel of advice I remember hearing in the back woods of Arkansas one unusually snowy winter. It’s stuck with me over the years, and so has the image shown below – another clear clue something’s very wrong:
In a hospital setting I.V. antibiotics are used to treat the disease, and include streptomycin and gentamicin. But these are impractical for Preppers for obvious reasons. Fortunately, doxycycline and ciprofloxacin, both of which can be purchased as fish antibiotics work well. Treatment should continue for 10 to 21 days depending on the severity of illness and the medication used. While symptoms may last for several weeks, most people completely recover.
Take Home Message: Expect Tularemia will be more common as the number of people raising rabbits increase. Keep your bunnies away from unfamiliar animals, and employ a “stranger danger” policy when other Preppers want to house their rabbits in your hutches. During troubled times it’s best just to assume any new animal introduced into the mix has the disease. Finally, if you trap, hunt or skin animals:
- Use a surgical mask to reduce your risk of inhaling the bacteria.
- Use gloves when handling, skinning and cleaning animals – especially rabbits, prairie dogs, muskrats and other rodents.
- Cook meat thoroughly prior to eating.
- Suspect water sources may be contaminated if dead animals are nearby.
- Know the signs and symptoms of Tularemia, and keep doxycycline and / or ciprofloxacin on hand in the event your prevention measures fail.
- And… avoid hitting them with your mower!
Good luck with your bunnies. They make a lot more sense than raising chickens!
[InstinctSurvivalist] – Here is a great page to get you going on the recipes: HunterGatherCook
I want to thank Dr. Ryan Chamberlin and ThePrepperPages.com for contributing by writing this article and letting me publish it. I think it was spot on and remember having some of these discussions with my dad when I was younger and both hunting and raising rabbits.
You can read more by Dr. Chamberlin in the book: The Prepper Pages
Use your instincts to survive