Landscapers at risk for "rabbit fever"

Rabbit fever, also known pneumonic tularemia, was occurring at higher than usual rates in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts last year. Scientists who studied the phenomenon reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that lawn mowing and brush cutting may be risk factors for the disease.

The illness is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis, which occurs in water, soil, ticks and animals. On average, only 100-200 cases occur annually in the US each year. However, on the island of Martha's Vineyard alone, the disease sickened 11 people in the year 2000. One of the victims died. Half of the victims were professional landscapers and most had used a lawn mower or brush cutter in the weeks prior to the illness.

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