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What is tularemia?

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Tularemia is infection triggered by the bacteria Francisella tularensis which is obtained upon direct exposure to diseased wild animals, typically rabbits or bitten by an infected deer fly, tick or flea.

Francisella tularensis is usually present in animals especially rabbits, rodents and hares. An individual can become infected by the following:

  • Handling infected animal carcasses
  • Bitten by an infected deer fly, tick or other insect usually during the summer season
  • Eating or drinking contaminated food or water
  • Inhalation of airborne particles that contain the bacteria

Take note that Francisella tularensis is considered as a potential biological weapon. It can spread via the air where it can be inhaled. The proportions of the airborne particles determine where they settle in the respiratory tract. The small particles enter the air sacs of the lungs and result to pneumonia.

How it spreads via the bloodstream

Fever reaching up to 104 degrees F can develop abruptly with chills, headaches, muscle aches and drenching sweat.

The infection can spread via the bloodstream and infect the following:

  • Bone
  • Lungs
  • Heart valves
  • Membrane around the heart
  • Tissues that cover the brain and spinal cord
  • Membranes that line the abdomen

Oftentimes, pus builds up in the lungs which forms an abscess.

Indications of tularemia

The various types of tularemia affect various parts of the body and can trigger different symptoms. These symptoms typically manifest 2-4 days after being exposed to the bacteria but can take up to 10 days.

Take note that sores might develop close to the scratch or bite site. The lymph nodes close to the infected area might enlarge and become sore. Fever reaching up to 104 degrees F can develop abruptly with chills, headaches, muscle aches and drenching sweat. There is also malaise and the individual feels nauseated. He/she will start to vomit and even lose weight and a rash will manifest at any time.


If an individual visits an area where tularemia is prevalent, the following should be observed.

  • Apply an insect repellant that contains 25-30% diethyltoluamide (DEET) on the exposed skin
  • Use clothing that has been treated with a repellant containing permethrin
  • Walk in the center of trails to avoid brushing against weeds and bushes
  • Always stay on trails and paths while walking in wooded areas
  • Always use long pants and tuck into socks and boots
  • Carefully search the clothing for any ticks
  • Avoid drinking or bathing in untreated water that might be contaminated


The condition is usually managed using injections of streptomycin into a muscle for 10 days. Other antibiotics that can be used include gentamicin, doxycycline, ciprofloxacin and chloramphenicol.

In rare instances, the abscesses require surgical drainage. You can apply a warm compress on the affected eye, wear dark glasses and use prescription eye drops. Those who are suffering from intense headaches are usually given opioids.

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