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Rabbit Fever Tularemia

When I first heard the term “rabbit fever” my inclination was to dig up my animal science notes and logbooks from my college days. As an owner of a pair of frisky little fur balls, I want to make sure I do everything that’s in my power to keep them safe from disease and discomfort.

Imagine my consternation when I opened up my Merck Manual and perused the index only to find that rabbit fever is something that affects humans. So named for the creatures that carry the infection, rabbit fever is caused by gram-negative bacterium called Francisella tularensis. The real name for this condition is Tularemia.

There are 4 different forms of Tularemia:

1) Ulceroglandular

2) Occuloglandular

3) Glandular and

4) Typhoidal.

Each of these four forms are infections specifically targeted to a particular part or parts, of the body. Ulceroglandular forms of Tularemia present as large, open sores or ulcers on the hand and fingers. Additionally, the lymph nodes on the infected side of the body become filled. Occularglandular Tularemia affects the eyes, making them moist and sticky. Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is the result of the infection. Infection spreads when a person fails to wash their hands thoroughly and then touches the face. Like Ulceroglandular Tularemia, Glandular Tularemia causes the lymph nodes on one side of the body to swell; the main difference between Ulceroglandular and glandular is that there are no open sores or blisters that occur with glandular tularemia. The fourth and most uncomfortable type of tularemia is called the Typhoid type. High fever, generalized pain, exhaustion and abdominal pain are the most commonly reported symptoms of Typhoid tularemia.


Tularemia (rabbit fever) is most often the result of a hunter coming into contact with the broken skin of the animal he has hunted. This potent gram-negative bacteria is common in wildlife. Symptoms of infection begin almost immediately. The first symptom is usually a high fever of 104 degrees, accompanied by vomiting, aches, chills and extreme exhaustion.

The second sign of infection is a blister that appears at the site of where the bacterium entered the body. Lymph nodes begin to swell and the blister (or blisters for there may be several) fill with pus then opens, turning the site into a disgusting, oozing wound. Once the body has been triggered to produce pus to fight infection, the lungs may also fill with fluid resulting in pneumonia. Occasionally the pneumonia is evidenced only by a dry cough. A bigger infection accompanied by sweats, chills and high fever can bring about delirium.


In order to treat rabbit fever, a seven to fourteen day course of injectable antibiotics may be prescribed. Bandages are used to cover the pus as it leaks from the blisters. Since the bacterium can work its way through in-tact skin, frequently changing the bandages helps keep the infection from spreading.


Tularemia is a very serious condition and medical attention should be sought out immediately if you suspect you have an infection. Tularemia is very treatable and can be cured easily. Those who go without treatment end up dying.