Tests have confirmed that a snowshoe hare from the North Pole area died of Tularemia last week, according to an ADF&G news release.
“Hares die of this infection every spring and summer in the Interior,” said wildlife veterinarian Dr. Kimberlee Beckmen. “This is the first hare we’ve found this year, but we expect to see more.”
A local resident of the Pheasant Road area reported to the Alaska State Troopers dispatch that there were a number of dead hares in the area. Personnel from the ADFG Regional Office investigated and collected a freshly dead hare for postmortem examination. Lab tests returned today confirmed the presence of Franciella tularensis, the bacteria that causes the disease known as Tularemia.
Tularemia is a bacterial disease that typically affects hares, beavers and muskrats. Predators and scavengers including dogs and cats that bite into a sick or dead hare as well as people who handle infected hares can become infected. Ticks, which are common on hares, and water contaminated with a dead animal can also spread the bacteria to animals and people. The most common symptoms in people include skin ulcers, swollen and painful lymph glands, inflamed eyes, sore throat, mouth sores, fever, flu-like illness, diarrhea or pneumonia. Tularemia can be fatal if the person is not treated with appropriate antibiotics. However, human cases in Alaska are rare and one case is reported about every two years.
Beckmen encouraged people to contact ADF&G at 459-7206 if they notice hares that appear to be ill. Signs that a hare is infected include lack of fear of people, “tameness,” lethargy, and sudden death. People can protect themselves by using gloves or a plastic bag if they have to touch a dead hare, and washing their hands afterwards. Don’t drink untreated water from areas where muskrats and beavers occur. Double bag and dispose of dead hares in trash or bury where dogs and scavengers can not get to them.
Dog and cat owners can protect their pets by keeping them away from snowshoe hares. Dogs or cats that become infected may show fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and swollen lymph nodes. Infected animals can be successfully treated by veterinarians with antibiotics. It is important to treat pets promptly not only for their sake, but because tularemia can be contracted though the bite of an infected pet.
For more information about Tularemia see the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Division of Epidemiology Website.