Two deaths reported in state

Thursday, August 10th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Two Oklahomans have died this summer of tularemia, a tick-borne bacterial infection that can lead to
painful swelling of lymph nodes and multi-organ failure.

Kristy K. Bradley, a staff epidemiologist with the state Health Department's communicable disease division, said Thursday that a 62-year-old Cherokee County woman and a 64-year-old Oklahoma County man died of the disease.

Dr. Mike Crutcher, state epidemiologist, sent a letter in late July alerting hospitals and local health departments about tularemia because of a notable increase in the number of cases that had been reported.

Since June 14, there have been seven reported cases. Five people were treated and recovered, Bradley said. She said in addition to the cases in Cherokee and Oklahoma counties, two cases had been reported in Adair County and one each in Payne, Pittsburg and Canadian counties.

The bacterial infection can be transmitted in a number of ways, but in most cases in Oklahoma, it is tick-borne, Bradley said.

A public fact sheet on the disease said the most common route of infection are from bites or contact with fluids from infected flies or ticks. Other methods are contact of the skin or mucous membranes with blood or tissue of infected animals or handling or eating
insufficiently cooked rabbit meat. Less common means of spread are drinking contaminated water, inhaling dust from contaminated soil or handling contaminated pelts or paws of animals.

Many wild and domestic animals can be infected, but rabbits are most often involved in disease outbreaks.

Symptoms include an ulcerative skin sore and painful swollen lymph glands. A fever can develop, leading to abscesses and a
generalized infection.

"It can be a very serious infection," Bradley said. In the two cases of death, the infections got into the blood stream and led to
systemic infection and multi-organ failures.

"We wanted to heighten awareness," Bradley said. "It can look like so many other illnesses....Sometimes tularemia comes to mind as quickly as Rocky Mountain spotted fever or some other" illness.

It had erroneously been reported earlier that the two deaths were from Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Bradley said the cases of tularemia are another reason for checking for ticks and making sure they are promptly and properly
removed. She also suggested using a tick repellant if a person is going to be outside in tick infested areas.