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Public Health - Seattle & King County

Tularemia (Francisella tularensis)

Tularemia is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis which naturally infects animals, especially rodents, rabbits, and hares. People become infected by the bite of an arthropod (most commonly ticks and deerflies) that has fed on an infected animal, or by being bitten by an infected animal, handling infected animal carcasses, eating or drinking contaminated food or water, or by inhaling infected aerosols in a laboratory setting. The use of F. tularensis as a weapon of bioterrorism is of concern because it is highly infectious. As few as 10 to 50 organisms can cause disease.

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Tularemia in King County

Purpose of surveillance:

  • To identify and eliminate sources of transmission including contaminated food and water
  • To identify cases caused by potential agents of bioterrorism

Tularemia Case Data in King County

Local epidemiology:

The last reported case of tularemia was in 2013 in an adult with ulceroglandular tularemia from a cat scratch; the case was not hospitalized.

Over the past five years, three other tularemia cases have been reported in person reporting outdoor activities, one of whom had skinned rabbits prior to becoming infected. Prior to 2009, the last case of tularemia in King County was reported in 2005.

Approximately 200 human cases of tularemia are reported annually in the United States, mostly in persons living in the south-central and western states. Each year in Washington state between two and eight cases are reported.