ALTUS, OK (KSWO) -A potentially deadly disease known as "rabbit fever" is causing concern across Oklahoma after wildlife officials reported a spike in the number of dead rabbits.
Tularemia is a bacteria that forms naturally all over the country. Rabbits, rodents and ticks can carry the disease and pass it on to humans and pets.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife says, so far, there are only two confirmed cases involving infected jackrabbits, one at Altus Air Force Base and the other in Blanchard area.
Jackrabbits are no strangers to Southwest Oklahoman's. We see them running in yards, across the street and in the woods, but some can carry diseases such as Tularemia, a bacteria that comes from ticks and anyone that touches it or comes around it, can be infected.
Commander of the Altus Air Force Base's medical group, Colonel Devin Beckstrand says they recently had two jackrabbits that tested positive for tularemia, and now they're doing research to find out why.
"I think what we're seeing, is just a natural cyclical cycle of a spike in infected animals, but it's something that likely happens every year, you just may not see it in these numbers," said Beckstrand.
Tularemia isn't seasonal, it can be present anytime during the year.
"If you see what looks like a sick animal, a rabbit, a squirrel, or other wild animal, if it doesn't look like it's acting normally, probably best to stay away from it," said Beckstrand.
According to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife, Oklahoma ranks third behind Arkansas and Missouri in the number of people infected each year. If you've touched an infected animal or been bitten by a tick, or deer fly and think you may have Tularemia, look for....
"Potentially a high fever," said Beckstrand "You can get some symptoms that look a lot like a virus, so body aches, pains, cramps. The thing that would be most likely specific for tularemia is if you were to get a skin ulceration, where you had a rash that may be broke down and the skin started to scuff"
Beckstrand says there's no reason to live in fear if you're outside hunting or exercising, but just to be smart and protect yourself with insect repellant as well as...
"Not go out to tall grass, avoid dead animals just to minimize that potential risk for exposure," said Beckstrand."
Health officials also recommend wearing a mask when mowing or gardening because you can also inhale tularemia if you mow over an infected animal. The disease can be deadly if the symptoms aren't caught early, but the good news is, it can usually be treated with antibiotics.
Anyone who comes in contact with a dead rabbit or any animal, is asked to contact the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife.