Summer is High Time for Bacterial Infection in Cats

FRIDAY July 9, 2010 -- Summer is peak season for a bacterial disease in cats called tularemia, which can be transmitted to humans if they're bitten by, or exposed to bodily fluids from, an infected cat, experts warn.

The risk of cats contracting the disease is highest in summer, but also occurs in spring. While dogs and sheep are susceptible to the disease, it is rare in those species, said Brad DeBey, an associate professor of pathology in the veterinary diagnostic laboratory at Kansas State University.

The most common ways that cats acquire tularemia is by eating infected rabbits or by being bitten by ticks that have fed on an infected rabbit. Lethargy, anorexia and fever are among the signs of tularemia infection in cats. There are no vaccines for the disease. The best protection is to keep cats indoors.

"For people who have cats but don't want to keep them indoors, the next best thing is to control ticks. Unfortunately, there's no way to control a cat from hunting rabbits since that's in their nature, but it's the risk you'll have to take with a cat being outdoors," DeBey said in a university news release.

"Veterinarians need to consider tularemia especially when outdoor cats are ill or dying. As veterinarians we're a piece of the puzzle when it comes to preventing human disease," he added.

DeBey said that, while rare, people can also contract tularemia by mowing the lawn.

"After an outbreak of tularemia on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, it was found that lawn mowing was linked to increased risk of contracting tularemia, leading to the name 'lawnmower tularemia.' It is hypothesized that aerosolization of the organism occurs when the lawn mower passes over and contacts a rabbit carcass that is infected with the organism," he said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about tularemia.

Posted: July 2010


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