SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Nine beavers were found dead in the last few weeks throughout Summit, Wasatch, and Utah counties due to a disease spreadable to humans, according to the Division of Wildlife Resources.

The beavers reportedly tested positive for a disease called tularemia — also known as rabbit fever, hare plague, and deerfly fever — which is caused by a bacteria. The disease is fatally infectious to rabbits, hares, and other rodents, including beavers, according to the DWR.

It can be transmitted through the bite of a tick or deerfly, by direct contact with blood or tissue from infected animals, or by ingestion of contaminated water or undercooked rabbit or hare meat from an infected animal.

The disease killed nine beavers in the state over the last few weeks in what the DWR calls an “unusual” circumstance.

“The bacteria that causes this infection is known to be in the environment in many parts of Utah; however, it is unusual to see this many animals die from it at once,” DWR Veterinarian Ginger Stout said. 

The deceased animals were found in the following areas:

  • Five dead beavers were discovered near the Swaner Preserve & EcoCenter by preserve staff between March 23 and April 2. All five beavers shared one beaver lodge at the preserve. 
  • One dead beaver was found near Midway on April 5 by a DWR fisheries crew. 
  • Two beavers and a vole were found dead near the Jordanelle Dam on April 8.
  • One dead beaver was discovered in the Birdseye area of Utah County on April 10.

Humans are, in fact, susceptible to tularemia, though human cases usually result from the bite of a tick or deerfly in the summer “or when someone handles infected animals harvested during hunting or trapping seasons,” according to the DWR.

The disease can reportedly be life-threatening for people if not treated quickly, however, most infections can be treated with antibiotics.

“There is a concern about the possibility of tick-borne or fly-borne diseases, so it’s advised to take the necessary precautions by wearing protective clothing, using appropriate insect repellent and checking for ticks after being in brushy areas,” Stout said.

The DWR advises that if you see a dead rabbit, beaver or other rodent, you should not touch the carcasses and should report them to their nearest DWR office.

The last confirmed case of tularemia killing wildlife in Utah was in 2017, according to the DWR, with a cottontail rabbit in the Kanab area.

For more information on the disease, visit the Dept. of Health and Human Services website here.