2 cases of rabbit fever confirmed in New Mexico

On Tuesday, the New Mexico Department of Health announced two confirmed human cases of tularemia in state residents.

Tularemia, or rabbit fever, is a disease caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis, which is often carried by rabbits, hares and rodents. Infections range from mild to life-threatening. Common symptoms include fever, chills, headaches, diarrhea, muscles aches and joint pain. Additional symptoms may include ulcers on the skin or mouth. The infection is most often transmitted to humans via tick or deer fly bites or by coming into physical contact with infected animals. Tularemia can be treated with antibiotics.

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Health officials are investigating both cases with a particular focus on the site of exposure.

"Tularemia exposure in the Rio Grande bosque area appears to be a new development for us that we are taking seriously," said Mark DiMenna, PhD, deputy director at the city's Environmental Health Department. "We have historically warned Bernalillo County residents in the East Mountains and along the northern and eastern reaches of the city limits about tularemia risks, but this may represent a new area to be concerned about."

The infections occurred in a 74-year-old man and a 71-year-old woman. The woman is hospitalized but improving and the man has fully recovered.

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