Tularaemia is a zoonosis (infection that could transmit from animals to humans), caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis, capable of surviving for weeks at low temperatures in water, moist soil, hay, straw or animal carcasses. Natural reservoirs are many types of animals, mainly rabbits, hares, squirrels, foxes and ticks. Human infection can occur through a variety of mechanisms, the most important of which is through bites of infected insects (ticks, mosquitoes and flies). Other ways are through direct contact with infected animal tissues and contaminated soil or by drinking contaminated water and eating undercooked infected meat. On rare occasions infection could also occur through inhalation of infective aerosols.
After an incubation period of about 3–5 days symptoms start abruptly with high fever. Other symptoms vary with the portal of entry, and include swollen lymph glands, eye infection, throat infection, pneumonia and severe infection with blood stream infection. The infection is curable by antibiotic treatment, and death is rare in Europe.
General preventive measures include protection against tick bites, avoid drinking potentially contaminated water, and ensure that rabbit and hare meat is cooked thoroughly. Vaccine can be used to protect workers at occupational risk.