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An alert rabbit sitting on grass outside

Tularemia is an illness caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. It’s also known as rabbit fever.

Tularemia spreads through contact with animals that have the bacteria. Wild animals—such as hares, rabbits, squirrels, muskrats, beavers, and deer—can have tularemia. Large numbers of rabbits, hares, or rodents can die during outbreaks. Certain domestic animals, such as sheep and cats, also sometimes have tularemia.

The bacteria also are found in ticks and deer flies. Bacteria spread to humans through an infected tick or deer fly bite.

Tularemia in humans is rare in Wisconsin, averaging fewer than one case per year since 1980. Hunters, trappers, or others who spend a lot of time outdoors are at a greater risk of getting tularemia.

Learn more from the CDC about tularemia

Tularemia 101

Lawnmower being used to cut grass by a person outside

Tularemia can’t spread from person to person. People can get tularemia by:

  • Being bitten by a dog tick, lone star tick, wood tick, or deer fly with tularemia bacteria.
  • Touching animal tissue with tularemia bacteria, most commonly when hunting or skinning infected rabbits, hares, muskrats, beavers, prairie dogs, and other rodents. Be careful when handling any sick or dead animal.
  • Breathing in dust or air particles with the bacteria. This can happen during farming or landscaping activities when tractors or mowers run over animals or carcasses with the bacteria.
  • Having contact with an ill animal, including being bitten or scratched, or providing care.
  • Eating game meat that isn’t fully cooked. Meat can have the bacteria even after being frozen for several years.
  • Drinking water with the bacteria in it.

Young child is having her temperature taken in bed

Symptoms of tularemia start two to 10 days after the bacteria enter the body. The signs and symptoms differ depending on where the bacteria enter the body and other reasons.

Almost everyone who is sick with tularemia will have:

  • Fever.
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the area of the body near where the bacteria entered.

Other signs and symptoms often depend on how the tularemia bacteria enter the body. Below are symptoms that can result from these different ways.

Insect bites, contact with infected tissue or animals, and animal bites or scratches:

  • Skin sores
  • Swollen lymph nodes, usually in an arm pit or groin closest to the skin sore

Touching the eye with unwashed hands that have the bacteria on them:

  • Irritation and swelling of the eye
  • Swollen lymph nodes in front of the ear

Eating meat or drinking water with the bacteria:

  • Sore throat
  • Mouth sores
  • Swollen tonsils
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

Breathing in the bacteria (or other ways that aren’t treated):

  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing

If you have these symptoms, contact a doctor. Tell them if you’ve had any recent bites by a tick or deer fly, or if you’ve had any contact with sick or dead animals. Symptoms of tularemia can match symptoms from other illnesses.

Tularemia can be treated with antibiotics.

Treatment is usually 10–21 days depending on the antibiotic used and how long you’ve been sick.

It can take many weeks, but most people heal completely.

When spending time outdoors:

  • Wear protective clothing, including long pants, long sleeves, and long socks.
  • Use insect repellents registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and labeled for use against ticks and deer flies.
  • Check your body for ticks after spending time outside. Remove attached ticks as soon as possible with narrow-bladed tweezers.
  • Learn about Tick Bite Prevention.
  • Don’t drink untreated water.

When hunting, trapping, or skinning animals:

  • Always wear gloves if you’re skinning or handling animals, especially rabbits.
  • Don’t touch your eyes or mouth with dirty hands or gloves.
  • Always wash your hands and equipment, such as knives and cutting boards, after you’re done handling the animal.
  • Cook meat from wild game thoroughly before eating it.

When farming or landscaping:

  • Check the area for carcasses before mowing the lawn or using a tractor.
  • Be careful not to mow over sick or dead animals.

When interacting with animals that could be infected:

  • Wear protective equipment, such as gloves.
  • Avoid bites and scratches.

  • Learn about transmission, symptoms, and prevention—Tularemia Fact Sheet, P-42100 (Multiple Languages)
  • General information on tularemia from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)—Tularemia

Just for health care providers

This is a Wisconsin disease surveillance category II disease.

Report a case to the patient’s local public health department. Within 72 hours of recognizing a case, submit a case report through one of the following or by other means:

Read more about required Disease Reporting. F-44151 (Word) in Wisconsin.

Case reporting and public health guidelines

Case Reporting and Investigation Protocol (previously called EpiNet)—Tularemia, P-01911 (PDF).


Diagnostic testing, infection control and environmental decontamination, and treatment from the CDC—Tularemia: For Clinicians

Contact us

Questions about tularemia or illnesses spread by ticks? We’re here to help.

Bureau of Communicable Diseases
Phone: 608-267-9003 Fax:

Last revised April 9, 2024