Health officials warn of infected ticks

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SAN DIEGO — Several ticks caught during routine monitoring near the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve tested positive for tularemia, a serious disease also known as “rabbit fever,” the County of San Diego Department of Environmental Health announced Tuesday.

According to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people contract tularemia through direct contact with infected animals, such as rabbits and rodents; by drinking contaminated water or inhaling dust or aerosols; or through contact with pests, such as ticks, that bite an infected animal and then a person.

The county said rabbit fever isn’t spread person-to-person.

“We recommend that people use insect repellent, especially when hiking in brushy areas, to prevent ticks and other insects from biting them,” said DEH Director Jack Miller. “Flea and tick control products should also be used on pets.”

According to Miller, hikers should stay in the center of wide trails and pathways, avoid grassy or brushy areas and not handle wild rodents. He also advises wearing light-colored, long-sleeved clothing, tucking shirts into pants and pants into socks and applying insect repellent to clothing and footwear. He recommends checking clothing, the body and companions for ticks frequently, leaving pets at home or keeping them on a leash, using tick control measures on pets and carefully removing attached ticks immediately.

The best way to remove ticks is by grabbing them with tweezers as close to the insect’s head as possible and pulling out steadily and firmly, he said.

According Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county public health officer, tularemia is fatal in rare cases, but it is usually treatable with antibiotics.

“Symptoms in humans include lymph node swelling, headache and fever,” Wooten said. “Other symptoms include a skin ulcer at the site of the bite, fatigue, body aches and nausea.”

People who think they’ve contracted the disease should consult a doctor, she said.

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