Testing Confirms "Rabbit Fever" in Areas of Oklahoma

November 15, 2016

Two jackrabbits like this one were infected with tularemia at Altus Air Force Base.                  (JENA DONNELL/ODWC)

Small-game hunters in Oklahoma are being cautioned about several cases of suspected or confirmed tularemia, including two cases involving jackrabbits at Altus Air Force Base and another case in the Blanchard area. The disease is sometimes called "rabbit fever."

    Oklahoma has periodic outbreaks, and hunters are urged to be aware and stay on the lookout. Rabbits that are behaving in unusual ways or seem to be lethargic might be stricken with tularemia and should not be harvested.

    Tularemia can be present anytime during the year. Hunters are advised to use safe handling practices and to wear rubber or latex gloves whenever handling any wild game. All wild game meat should be thoroughly cooked before eating. 

    Since September, Altus AFB pest management personnel have found about 60 carcasses of jackrabbits and cottontail rabbits. The Jackson County Health Department has been made aware of the findings.

    This bacterial infection can be passed from animals to people and pets. Transmission can occur through flea and tick bites, contact with an infected animal, inhalation (i.e., mowing over an infected carcass), and via contaminated water. It is generally treatable with antibiotics.

    Anyone going afield should always use a tick repellant, as ticks can spread tularemia to people. Also, people should not drink raw water from lakes or streams because tularemia can be present.

    Tularemia is naturally occurring in the environment, and it is common in rabbits, hares, muskrats and beavers. Oklahoma ranks third behind Arkansas and Missouri in the number of people infected each year. Because it is naturally present, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has no immediate plans to alter rabbit hunting season, which is now open and runs through March 15, 2017.

    Hunters and landowners who encounter a concentration of dead rabbits while in the field are asked to contact the Wildlife Department at (405) 590-2583.

    To learn more about tularemia, view the Oklahoma Health Department's fact sheet at www.ok.gov/health2/documents/TularemiaFactSheet.2012.pdf. Anyone with health concerns or questions should contact their health care provider.