What is Tularaemia?

What is Tularaemia?

Tularaemia is an infection due to a bacterium called Francisella tularensis. This infection is usually of wild animals but can be transmitted to humans.

While Tularaemia is well known and understood in many parts of the northern hemisphere, its ecology in the southern hemisphere is largely unknown. Health, biomedical and wildlife experts continue to gather intelligence on how the rare disease could behave in Tasmania.


What are the different types of Tularaemia?

Different strains of Francisella tularensis cause different types of Tularaemia.

Type A Tularaemia occurs only in Northern America and can cause severe human illness. The recent cases in Tasmania are Type B (“ulceroglandular”) Tularemia. Type B Tularaemia is less severe than Type A. Type B Tularaemia is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis subspecies holarctica.


How is it transmitted?

Tularaemia does not pass from person to person.

Extensive experience in the northern hemisphere shows that the most common ways humans are infected are by the bites of ticks or insects and through handling infected wild animals and carcasses.

The Tasmanian infections appear to be the first cases of Type B Tularaemia in the southern hemisphere. These infections are highly likely to have been acquired through animal bites, and were characterised by infection of the skin, and inflammation of the lymph glands.


What are the symptoms of Type B Tularaemia?

Type B Tularaemia can present in a number of different ways, ranging from a relatively mild illness, to a more severe disease. Symptoms depend on how a person was infected.

The most common symptoms of Type B Tularemia are a skin ulcer, swollen and painful lymph glands, fever and chills. This infection is acquired by the bites of ticks or insects, or through handling infected wild animals and carcasses.

Less often, Type B Tularaemia can cause infection of the throat, eyes, lungs or bowel. These features have not been seen in the Tasmanian cases.


How soon do infected people get sick?

Symptoms usually appear three to five days after exposure to the bacteria, but can take as long as 14 days.


What should I do if I am bitten or scratched by a wild animal?

Wild animals can carry a range of disease-causing germs.

If you are bitten or scratched, clean the wound with warm water and soap and seek medical advice about whether you need tetanus and/or antibiotic prophylaxis.

If you develop a sore that breaks down or fails to heal after receiving an injury from a wild animal, please see your GP. 


What should I do if I’m bitten by a tick?

Ticks can carry a range of disease-causing germs.

If you are bitten by a tick, remove promptly with fine-tipped tweezers.  If you become ill or develop a sore that breaks down or fails to heal after receiving a tick bite, please see your GP.


How is Tularaemia treated?

Suspected cases of Tularaemia should be managed with specialist medical advice. Specialised testing is required to make the diagnosis. If Tularaemia is possible, treatment involves particular antibiotics, often for a prolonged period of time.

Last updated: 11 November 2012