Beavers in Breck area have tested positive for tularemia |

Beavers in Breck area have tested positive for tularemia

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. — Colorado has seen 15 human cases of tularemia reported this year — five times the annual average for the state. Tularemia-related small-mammal die-offs have been reported in at least 27 Colorado counties, including Summit.

Beavers found south of Breckenridge have tested positive for tularemia, a potentially life-threatening bacterial disease that can infect any warm-blooded animal, including humans, dogs, cats, rabbits, hares, voles and beavers. Rodents, rabbits and hares are especially susceptible. An infection can be deadly in all species.

“We’re encouraging Summit County residents and visitors to avoid handling sick or dead animals and to stay away from potentially contaminated areas, evidenced by the presence of dead animals,” Summit County Public Health nurse Steph Stookey said in a written statement. “Given the rise in cases this year, it’s important to take necessary precautions.”

Of the 15 human cases reported so far this year, 11 patients have been hospitalized.

Tularemia is a disease caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. Infected animals shed the bacteria in their feces and urine, and high numbers of bacteria are present in their carcasses. The bacteria can persist for long periods of time in water, soil and carcasses.

Humans are most commonly infected with tularemia by breathing in the bacteria during outdoor activities in areas where small-animal die-offs have occurred. They can also contract the disease through direct exposure to infected animals, by drinking contaminated water, through contact with contaminated soil and by ingestion. Ticks, deer flies and infected pets also can transmit tularemia to people. Person-to-person transmission does not occur.

People who work or play in areas where dead small mammals have been seen are at risk for inhaling airborne tularemia bacteria. Symptoms of the disease include, but are not limited to, high fever, open sores on the skin or mucous membranes, eye irritation and swelling, swollen lymph nodes, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing and chest pain. Blood tests and cultures can help confirm a diagnosis. Most infections can be treated successfully with antibiotics.

For more information about tularemia, contact Summit County Public Health at (970) 668-9161, or visit

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