Rare Bacterial Infection Kills One, Infects Nine More in Massachusetts
OAK BLUFF, Mass. - A rare bacterial infection usually found in rabbits and rodents has been blamed for one death and the infection of at least nine others on Martha's Vineyard since June, according to health officials.
David Kurth, 43, of Chilmark, died Saturday after he was stricken with tularemia, according to Maia Gaillard, a Martha's Vineyard Hospital spokesman.
She said that he was severely ill when he came to the hospital, and later was transferred to Boston Medical Center on the mainland where he died.
All nine of the people known to have been stricken with tularemia were successfully treated with antibiotics and recovered, Roseanne Pawelec, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Health, told the Cape Cod Times.
The disease is passed from rabbits and rodents, such as squirrels, voles, muskrats, to humans through dog tick bites. People can also catch the disease by eating or coming in contact with an infected animal, contaminated water or soil. Deer ticks do not carry the disease.
The infected people have been males between the ages of 13 and 59, according to the Martha's Vineyard Gazette, and most of the infected people have outdoor occupations such as landscaping and construction work. The others mow their own lawns.
Tularemia comes on suddenly with symptoms that include swollen glands, a high fever, chills, fatigue, headache, a sore throat, sore joints, chest discomfort, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea and a dry cough. Symptoms generally appear three to five days after an exposure to the bacteria, although they can take as long as 14 days to appear.
Pawelec said that generally one to three people are diagnosed each year with the disease.
"Ten confirmed cases is unusual," Pawelec said. "The last time there was a death was a woman from Duxbury in 1996."
The last time there was an outbreak on the Vineyard was in the 1970's, Gaillard said.
Some health officials speculate that wet weather this summer may have contributed to the sharp rise in tularemia because the bacteria remain alive much longer in damp weather, according to the Gazette.