A New Zealand white rabbit discovered last month by campers at Oceanside’s Guajome County Park has tested positive for Tularemia, or “rabbit fever,” a rare infectious disease that can cause severe illness and death in animals and humans.
“Rabbits are the main reservoir for the disease, and they usually die from it,” says Chris Conlan, supervising ecologist at County Vector Control. Having a rabbit test positive for Tularemia is out of the ordinary. “It is rather rare, as we only find positive results every few years,” says Conlan.
Conlan says that it is unknown why the New Zealand white rabbit was at the campground in the first place. New Zealand white rabbits are a domesticated breed with snowy white fur and pink eyes -- hardly the type of rabbit you would expect to find out in the wild. They are popular as pets, in laboratories, and for the meat and fur trade.
“It is suspected it either escaped or was turned loose by someone,” says Conlan.
Tularemia can be spread from animals to humans through the bite of an infected tick or deer fly or from contact with an infected animal.
“Ticks are the main vectors for the disease, so it is suspected that the rabbit was bitten by an infected tick after it found itself in the great outdoors with no owner,” says Conlan.
Tularemia is usually treatable with antibiotics when diagnosed early. Left untreated, the disease is potentially fatal. The bacteria that causes Tularemia has been identified as a possible bioweapon, according to the Mayo Clinic website.