Rare Disease Hits Martha's Vineyard

Friday, September 1st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WEST TISBURY, Mass. (AP) — Health officials are investigating a cluster of cases of the rare disease tularemia on Martha's Vineyard, the island off Massachusetts known as a vacation haven for President Clinton and other celebrities.

At least 10 residents have been infected with the disease and one of them recently died. Normally, the state only sees one or two cases a year.

There are only about 100 cases per year nationwide, usually less than 2 percent of which are fatal, said Dr. May Chu of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is investigating the Massachusetts cases. The disease can be effectively treated with antibiotics.

Tularemia is a bacterial disease usually contracted by a dog tick bite or by touching or eating an infected animal. Rabbits and rodents are the animals most likely to be infected.

The disease, known as ``rabbit fever,'' also can be transmitted by contact with water or soil that has been contaminated by an infected animal or by inhalation of contaminated particles. State health officials have warned people who work in outdoor occupations that they may be at increased risk.

David Kurth, 43, of the town of Chilmark, died of the disease on Saturday.

The disease typically has a sudden onset, usually with a high fever, chills, headache and fatigue. Other symptoms can include swollen glands, a skin sore, cough, sore joints, chest discomfort, vomiting, eye inflammation, abdominal pain, diarrhea and a dry cough.