Audrey Love

Summertime is proving to pose more risks to Union county residents than the typical sunburn or broken air conditioner, as vector-borne disease season has presented two cases of tularemia in the county already. The Center for Human Development is still investigating the cases, and details on how and where the disease was contracted have not yet been determined.

“Because of the lifestyle we lead in Union County (which) includes many outdoor activities and the abundance of agriculture in our area, it makes sense that we could be exposed to tularemia,” said Carrie Brogoitti, CHD’s Public Health Administrator.

“Still, tularemia is rarely transmitted to humans so we are surprised to see two cases in Union County in such a short period of time.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tularemia is a bacterial disease of animals and humans, most common in summer. Typically, animals such as rabbits, hares and rodents are especially susceptible; the disease is rarer in humans. Humans can become infected with tularemia through several routes, including tick and deer fly bites, skin contact with infected animals (which can occur when hunting or skinning infected animals), ingestion of contaminated water and inhalation of contaminated aerosols or agricultural dusts. The bacterium that causes tularemia is highly infectious and can enter the human body through the skin, eyes, mouth or lungs.

Signs and symptoms of tularemia vary depending on how the bacteria enter the body, though all forms are accompanied by fever. Symptoms of tularemia are flu-like and also include chills, severe headaches, body aches, weakness or fatigue, sore throat, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting and skin ulcers at the point of contact or site of a bite.

Tularemia can also be contracted through airborne transmission, causing cough or shortness of breath. Symptoms usually appear three to five days after exposure, but can take as long as 14 days to appear. Due to its rarity, tularemia can be difficult to diagnose, as its symptoms can be mistaken for more common illnesses. Most infections can be treated successfully with antibiotics.

“Tularemia can be very serious, but it can be treated,” said Elizabeth Sieders, communicable disease nurse at CHD. “This is why we want people to know what to be looking for.”

Sieders noted that with greater awareness of tularemia symptoms and subsequent treatment, there may be an increase in the number of cases officially reported.

“It is possible there have been human cases that were not identified as tularemia because providers and patients did not have this on their radar as something to look for or test for,” Sieders said.

“Oregon has such a robust variety of wildlife. Unfortunately, this also increases the probability of having vector-borne diseases,” said Chris Law, Union County Vector Control district manager. “It only makes sense that the more species of wildlife in an area, the greater the chance of diseases being spread by the wildlife.”

See more in Wednesday's edition of The Observer