Minnesota health officials working to increase awareness of tularemia following increase in cases


Hannah Saunders


The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Minnesota Board of Animal Health (BAH) are tracking an increase in cases of tularemia in animals, particularly in the Twin Cities and metro area. Tularemia cannot be transmitted from person to person, but humans can be infected through contact with wildlife. There have been three reported cases in people since the start of this year. 

Last month, a person became infected with tularemia after mowing over a dead animal in Hennepin County. In May, another person from Ramsey County became infected after being bitten by a stray cat. Tularemia can be fatal if left untreated.

“There have been eight cases of tularemia in animals (five cats and three dogs) and three cases in humans in Minnesota so far in 2024,” Amy Barrett, information officer at MDH, told State of Reform. 

Minnesota typically reports six or fewer cases of tularemia in humans each year, and tularemia is found in every state except Hawaii. Pets are frequently exposed to tularemia by hunting animals or through tick or fly bites. MDH said cats are especially at risk of becoming infected. 

Humans can also become infected through insect bites; handling sick or dead animals; eating or drinking contaminated food or water; or through inhalation of the bacterium Francisella tularensis. According to the CDC, there are about 200 reported cases of tularemia in the U.S. each year.  

“The signs and symptoms of tularemia in people can vary. Illness generally starts with symptoms such as a fever, chills, and swollen lymph nodes. Symptoms may also include skin or mouth ulcers, diarrhea, muscle aches, joint pain, cough, and weakness. People who have had contact with an infected animal should watch for these symptoms,” Barrett said. 

The incubation period for tularemia is generally three to five days, but can range between one and 14 days. A vaccine was used in the past to protect laboratory workers from tularemia, but it is not currently available, according to the CDC. 

Barrett said veterinarians, hunters, trappers, landscapers, farmers and people who spend time outdoors—where ticks and biting flies are more common—are at higher risk of contracting tularemia. 

“Pet owners should be aware of the symptoms of tularemia in animals so they can seek prompt veterinary care for their pet, if necessary, and take proper precautions to avoid getting sick themselves,” Barrett said. “Stray animals could carry many different diseases, including tularemia, so people should avoid contact with them.” 

BAH has already alerted veterinarians to be on the look-out for signs of tularemia in cats and other animals they treat, Barrett noted. If pets spend a significant amount of time outside, or if they’ve had contact with a rabbit or rodent and develop symptoms of tularemia, BAH and MDH encourage owners to bring their pets to their vets for evaluation. Keeping pets indoors will prevent contact with other infected outdoor animals. To reduce infection in humans, people should avoid dead or stray animals, and if that cannot be avoided, people should use gloves when interacting with dead or sick animals. 

“MDH recommends that any Minnesotan bitten or scratched by an animal diagnosed with tularemia should call MDH at 651-201-5414 as well as their health care professional about what to do next,” said Barrett, who also said keeping pets indoors reduces their risk for illness.

Those interested in learning more about public health in Minnesota can register to attend the 2024 Minnesota State of Reform Health Policy Conference, which will be held at the Hyatt Regency Bloomington in Minneapolis on Sept. 5. 

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