The N.C. Wildlife Commission and state Division of Public Health are encouraging hunters to take precautions after a rabbit hunter in eastern North Carolina tested positive for a rare but serious disease called tularemia, also known as rabbit fever.
“We’re just asking hunters to take precautions and be aware,” said Carolyn Rickard, spokeswoman for the N.C. Wildlife Commission.
Rabbit hunting season in North Carolina runs from Nov. 17 to Feb. 28.
Both hunters appear to be recovering, the commission noted.
Although rare, rabbit fever is a serious and potentially fatal disease. It’s also one where preventative measures can be taken.
Marilyn Haskell, public health veterinarian and epidemiologist with the N.C. Division of Public Health, said the division’s role is to prevent diseases and its employees would like to get a prevention and education message out to the public.
Tularemia is a disease caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s typically found in animals, especially rodents and rabbits. Most cases occur in rural areas.
There have been 17 cases reported in North Carolina since 1999.
“That is combined, confirmed and probable,” said Haskell, who specializes in rabies and zoonotic diseases. “It can make you very, very sick. We want hunters to know you can get very sick and the rabbit can appear very normal.”