2008-06-13 / Top Stories

Rare Infection, Perhaps At Gateway

By Christine Cea

The City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) has announced that a Brooklyn resident has been diagnosed with pneumonic tularemia, a rare illness for this area, adding that the agency believes that the infection was picked up during a camping trip to nearby Floyd Bennett Field Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area in Brooklyn.

The unidentified patient was admitted and diagnosed in early June, after a week of suffering symptoms, which began four days after his camping trip in Gateway.

Synonymous with "rabbit fever" and "deer-fly fever," tularemia is caused by interaction with a variety of animal hosts such as rabbits, hares, aquatic rodents, rats, mice, squirrels and cats.

Bites from these animals, as well as ticks or deerflies, can transmit the infection. It, however, is not transmittable via humans.

The illness is relatively rare in New York City, with only 15 reported cases since 1965, and thrives mainly in the south, central and western states. The newly found proximity however of the infection is causing the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to urge all those, particularly who have visited Gateway National Recreation Area, and have the symptoms, to immediately seek medical aid, as well as alarm- ing local doctors to look out for the infection.

Symptoms include fever, headache, chills, body aches mainly in the lower back, sore throat, possible nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and sweats, chills, progressive weakness, anorexia and weight loss. If symptoms are present, medical attention should be sought rapidly.

The Department of Health is also imploring all those who have visited Gateway National Recreation Area, and have the following symptoms, specifically: unexplained pneumonia, cutaneous ulcers with fever, unexplained fever with regional lymphadenopathy, which is characterized by swollen lymph nodes, and sepsis or acute respiratory distress syndrome, characterized by chest pain, to be sent for laboratory testing.

Tularemia is a quickly spreading infection, but not necessarily deadly, although humans can develop a severe and fatal illness. The case fatality is approximately 1 percent. If diagnosed, the typical incubation period is three to five days, but can range from anywhere from one to 14. And although it spreads quickly, it is easy to aerosolize, is non-persistent, and generally nonlethal if properly taken care of.

Laboratory testing is plausible and involves a variety of tests but should first be discussed with the Bureau of Communicable Disease at the numbers listed below, followed by with the PHL BioThreat Response Laboratory at 212-447-1091 during regular business hours, and after hours with the Poison Control Center.

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