A potentially dangerous disease has been found in Lubbock-area wild hogs. Researchers at Texas Tech are determining how to keep humans safe from the disease.
Researchers at the Institute of Environmental and Human Health (TIEHH) at Tech discovered the disease in the hogs. Steve Presley, a zoonotic disease researcher at TIEHH, is one of the researchers studying the hogs.
“We discovered the hogs in Crosby County,” Presley said. “Fifty percent of the hogs we tested were positive for Tularemia.”
Infected hogs also were found in Bell and Coryell counties. Only 15 percent of tested hogs were infected in these counties.
Presley said Tularemia is potentially harmful to humans. There are two types: Type A and Type B. Type A is rarer and most harmful to humans. Type B is commoner but less harmful.
“The disease can infect a human through a cut,” Presley said. “The disease can also be spread through the air, and humans can catch it by breathing infected air.”
Anna Hoffarth, a graduate student at TIEHH from Flower Mound, is working on a thesis statement about the disease being found in local wild hogs. Hoffarth explained how she tested the pigs for the disease.
“I set a box trap for the pigs at night,” Hoffarth said. “I then come and check the trap for pigs in the morning. I take a sample of their blood and test this for Tularemia.”
Brad Dabbert, associate chairman of Texas Tech’s Department of Natural Resources Management, said Tech students should be cautious when they are out hunting.
“Hunters should always wear protective gloves and eyewear when they are cleaning animals to prevent from getting a disease,” Dabbert said.
Dabbert said the hogs are being studied to examine their movement. Once the movement of the hogs has been determined, the disease can be contained.
Presley said the disease is more dangerous than people might think.
“Type A has been classified as a biological threat,” Presley said. “The disease could be weaponized and spread through aerosol.”
Presley said the disease is commonly found in rabbits and has lead to the disease being known as “rabbit fever.”
“A common way to catch the disease is by mowing over a group of infected baby rabbits,” Presley said. “The disease is then airborne, and a human could be infected by inhalation.”
Dabbert said the disease is not limited to feral swine. Birds and other mammals also have been infected.
“This proves that hunters should always practice safety,” Dabbert said. “Any animal could be infected with this disease.”
This disease is not the first Presley and his researches have discovered. They also researched West Nile virus back in 2002 and 2003.
“We were the first to discover West Nile virus west of I-35,” Presley said.
Presley said the next step is expanding surveillance of the area where the infected hogs were found. The researches also will look at other species to discover if they are infected.
“We need to determine if any other animals are infected,” Presley said. “Once we determine that, we can try and contain the disease.”