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Kids and pets touching wild rabbits can be deadly

Kids and pets touching wild rabbits can be deadly

Doctors warn you to keep your families and pets away from rabbits because a simple touch could lead to death. It seems rabbits are showing up by the dozens across Springfield usually in meadows and grasslands, and often burrowed underground.

Now, Illinois health officials said: ‘Don't touch them.’

They could carry a deadly disease called Tularemia or "Rabbit fever".

"This year there are a lot of rabbits, and it could be that there is a rise or an uptick in that as well,” Dr. Greg Hurst of the White Oaks Went Animal Hospital said.

The disease can cause severe headaches, swollen lymph nodes, and even hallucinations.

“You can feel extremely sick,” Dr. Hurst said. “And you can become nauseous and not want to eat, and obviously it can get to the point where it can cause death."

Wade Ebert, who lives in West Springfield, sees a handful of rabbits every day.

“Every day,” Ebert said. “The bunnies are here. It's like a bunnies' convention."

His two dogs chase them around the yards.

“The last time I was sitting out here, yesterday,” Ebert said. “A bunny actually came towards me, and I’m thinking, ‘Huh that bunny is not afraid of people’."

The disease infects rabbits' organs, mainly the liver, and spreads most easily when those organs are exposed after death.

“I love bunnies,” 11-year-old Elle Richardson said.

Elle and her 9-year-old sister, Perry, said they see the cottontails almost every time they go outside.

"Fluffy and they have a great personality,” Elle said.

Even if dogs catch bunnies and don't bring them indoors, the remnants of the hopping critter on the dogs can transfer the bacteria to someone else.

"Once I tried to catch one,” Elle said. “Ran after it."

Just weeks ago, a rabbit in Cook County tested positive for tularemia.

"I feel sad that the bunnies have a disease,” Perry said.

The disease usually comes from tick bites.

"Ticks have been just incredible this year,” Dr. Hurst said. “Get your pets on tick control. Keep aware of what's going on in your yard and things like that to try to avoid getting exposed to rabbits."

A fellow veterinarian lived through the disease and underwent a 20-day treatment before recovering.

"Oh my gosh,” Ebert said. “Definitely stay away from the bunnies."

If the disease goes untreated, the prolonged fever and fatigue is often deadly. If you or your kids or pets see a wild rabbit, alive or dead, stay away from it. You might start feeling symptoms of the disease one to 21 days after touching a wild rabbit. Tularemia is highly contagious and is more common in people than it is for pets. You might experience anything from a fever, to chills, to loss of appetite.

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