A North Platte girl is recovering after contracting tularemia.
Dr. Tom Safranek, Nebraska's state epidemiologist, said six cases of the highly contagious disease have been confirmed in the state this year. Eva Nutter, 4, is one of them.
Eva spent Memorial Day weekend swimming in Birdwood Creek and the Interstate lakes near Hershey. Afterward, her mother, Jennifer Nutter, noticed a tick on the left side of Eva's neck.
Jennifer said she pulled the bug off and forgot about it. Soon after, Eva developed a rash and fever and complained of neck pain. The lymph nodes behind her ear and by her clavicle swelled.
Jennifer, a registered nurse, became concerned Eva might have meningitis. She took her to Great Plains Pediatrics in North Platte, where another tick was found in Eva's hairline near her left ear.
"The tick wasn't imbedded completely, but it was evident it had been there for a while," Jennifer said. "The site was infected. There was a red, swollen area about 3 inches wide that was hot to the touch."
Cultures were done, and Eva was put on an antibiotic and sent home. When she started complaining about a sore throat a few days later, Jennifer took her back to the pediatrician's office.
"By then, she had pustules on the roof of her mouth and her throat was swollen," Jennifer said. "The areas where both ticks had bitten her were even more inflamed, and the skin around them was peeling."
More cultures were performed and Eva was put on another antibiotic, which she caused an allergic reaction. Ultimately, Eva was taken to the Children's Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha.
On June 6, she was diagnosed with tularemia, also known as rabbit fever or deer fly fever. Because of Jennifer's nursing background, officials at the children's hospital agreed to let her treat Eva at home with IV fluids. Eva received doses of Gentamicin three times a day for nine days and is feeling better, Jennifer said.
According to Safranek, tularemia can be life threatening. Caused by bacteria, it can attack the skin, eyes, lymph nodes, lungs and other internal organs. Safranek said the disease is most common in mammals, especially rodents and rabbits.
Tularemia is transmitted through tick and deer fly bites, skin contact with infected animals, ingestion of contaminated water and inhalation of contaminated dusts and aerosols.
"We've had scenarios where yard workers run over an infected rabbit carcass and the aerosols from it cause pneumonia," Safranek said. "Those people can get really sick and die really fast."
He said the biggest problem with both tularemia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, another tickborne disease, is that they are so uncommon they are often overlooked.
"Doctors often misdiagnose them and prescribe the wrong antibiotics to treat them," Safranek said. "The good news is they are preventable."
He said people should use care when handling dead animals, wear insect repellent and do frequent tick checks because the transmission rate is low if ticks are removed quickly.