Health officials in Colorado caution the public regarding the potential spread of tularemia, or rabbit fever, in the state after 15 people have become ill due to the disease this year alone.

Tularemia is a diseased caused by the bacterium known as Francisella tularensis. The microorganism is often carried by wild animals, especially hares, rabbits and rodents. It is then transmitted to humans through insect bites from ticks and deerflies.

The disease is found across the United States, with an average of 135 cases reported every year, typically from the country's south central regions.

While rabbit fever is considered a relatively rare sickness in Colorado, experts believe the unusually high number of cases recorded so far this year could be caused by the sudden explosion of rabbit populations in the state. The unusually lush vegetation has allowed the animals to breed more often this season.

State veterinarian Jennifer House explained that the additional vegetation has helped rabbits increase in number considerably and leave more bacteria in the environment for humans to be exposed to.

The greener environment observed in the past couple of years also appear to boost two other rodent-carried diseases-plague and hantavirus.

There have been five recorded cases of hantavirus infection in Colorado this year, wherein four of the cases were fatal. The state had six cases of the disease the previous year.

Colorado also recorded one case of the plague this year after a 16-year-old athlete named Taylor Gaes was killed by this rare form of illness. There were eight known cases of the plague last year, which is one more than the average reported cases in the U.S. in any given year.

Aside from insect bites, rabbit fever can also be contracted through contact with an infected animal or inhaling the tularemia bacteria. The microbe can also remain active in soil as well as in animal droppings.

Health experts urge people to always put on footwear and not go barefoot when walking outside to avoid coming into contact with the bacteria. They also recommend wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants during outdoor activities.

Dog owners are also advised not to allow their pets to chase rodents or rabbits or drink water from puddles that could be contaminated with the tularemia bacteria.

Tularemia and the plague are curable through timely antibiotic treatments since they are both caused by bacteria. The hantavirus infection, however, is different since it is triggered by virus, and there has yet to be a vaccine developed to fight it.

Photo: Jans Canon | Flickr 

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