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A bacterial disease is infecting beavers and other wild mammals in Utah

a beaver is in water next to a pile of sticks, with the water reflecting the blue sky
Bill Hayden
/
Flickr
Beavers and other rodents are susceptible to the bacterial disease tularemia.

As of mid-April, nine beavers have died from tularemia in Utah.

Ginger Stout is the state wildlife veterinarian for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. She said tularemia is a bacterial disease that primarily affects lagomorphs and rodents.

“Initially, five dead beavers were found near Park City, Utah. Then another one was found near Midway — a couple after that found south of the Jordanelle Dam. And then our last one that tested positive was discovered near Birdseye,” Stout said.

“So rabbits or hares, and then rodents such as Beaver, muskrat, voles, etc. … although outside of that it can infect all sorts of different species … and it can also affect humans," she said.

In animals like beavers, Stout said sudden death is the most common symptom.

“When we found the first five dead beavers, that was just kind of a red flag for us … that triggered us to think we need to test for some kind of disease,” Stout said.

Tularemia is most commonly transmitted by ticks and deer flies but contact with an infected animal or carcass can also spread the disease.

“The human risk … depends on where you are. But … I would recommend wearing either insect repellent or protective clothing to reduce bites, and then … hunters have a risk if they hunt rabbits because rabbits can carry this as well,” Stout said.

Stout said tularemia in humans can be easily treated with antibiotics as long as it is diagnosed early.

“The risk is still pretty low for humans," she said. "But if you do find something dead, just be careful not to touch it.”

If you come across a dead rabbit or beaver in Utah, report it to the nearest DWR office. For more information on tularemia, visit epi.utah.gov/tularemia.

Caroline Long is a science reporter at UPR. She is curious about the natural world and passionate about communicating her findings with others. As a PhD student in Biology at Utah State University, she spends most of her time in the lab or at the coyote facility, studying social behavior. In her free time, she enjoys making art, listening to music, and hiking.