Alaska wildlife officials recently issued a warning for residents in Fairbanks: Beware of hares.
In a news release late last month, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced it had received calls about an “abundance” of hares — some of which were dead — in the Fairbanks area.
The dead hares could have possibly contracted an infectious disease known as tularemia. The disease, which is caused by the Francisella tularensis bacteria, “is most often diagnosed in hares and pets in the Interior between Memorial Day and Labor Day because it is spread by hare and vole ticks which are active during the summer. The tick species known to carry the bacteria prefer hares and rodents, but will occasionally bite dogs, cats, or people,” the wildlife agency said.
Additionally, the agency noted, two species of dog ticks “have become established around urban areas in Alaska and are capable of spreading the bacteria.”
Pets can also contract the disease from “mouthing or catching” hares that have tularemia. If a pet is infected, people, too, can contract tularemia via their pet’s saliva or by handling infected hares. And, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, people can become infected “even before the pet exhibits signs of illness.”
There are multiple types of tularemia, per the Mayo Clinic. But in the most common form of the disease — ulceroglandular tularemia — signs in humans typically include fever, chills, exhaustion, a skin ulcer at the infection site and swollen and painful lymph glands. Infected pets, too, can show similar signs, such as lethargy, high fever and swollen lymph nodes, according to the wildlife department.
People can reduce their risk of contracting the disease if they wear gloves or use a plastic bag when taking a hare away from their pet. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which recommends putting dead hares in the trash or burying them deep enough where pets or other animals can’t reach them, also advises washing hands thoroughly afterward.
If infected, the disease can be “easily cured” with certain antibiotics — but can be fatal if left untreated.
"Tularemia in humans is rare and can be avoided by taking safety precautions," Kimberlee Beckmen, Alaska Department of Fish and Game veterinarian, said in a statement. “Don't let your pets roam free or have access to hares. Dogs and cats that go outdoors can be treated with a veterinary product that will kill ticks within 24 hours so that disease transmission doesn't occur from ticks feeding on pets."