Rare Tularaemia infection from possum scratch prompts warning [NSW]

20/05/2010 NSW Health Media Release:   “NSW Health is urging people to avoid touching possums following the first probable case of the rare disease tularaemia in a NSW resident.

The woman was bitten and scratched by a ringtail possum in a Northern Sydney suburb in early March, and since developed symptoms including swollen lymph glands, fatigue, and a sore throat. Further testing is continuing to confirm the diagnosis. NSW Health’s Acting Director of Communicable Diseases, Ms Keira Glasgow, said that while the disease is highly contagious, most people fully recover with appropriate antibiotics.

Tularaemia is an extremely rare bacterial disease, which can be transmitted to humans from infected animals but not from human-to-human.

“The best way to prevent tularaemia is to avoid touching or handling any wildlife,”

NSW Health’s Acting Director of Communicable Diseases, Ms Keira Glasgow

Only two cases of tularaemia have been reported in people in Australia previously, both of whom had been bitten or scratched by possums in Tasmania in 2011.

The type of bacteria present in Australia is less virulent than the type seen in North America, and there have been no deaths associated with the disease in Australia.

“If you see sick or injured wildlife, do not pick it up or try to rescue it. Instead, contact the experts at your local licensed wildlife care group or local veterinarian,”

NSW Health’s Acting Director of Communicable Diseases, Ms Keira Glasgow

Symptoms of tularaemia include fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, headache and nausea, which appear within two weeks of exposure to the bacteria.

People exposed to the bacteria through bites and scratches to their skin will also develop an ulcer at the wound.

“If you have become unwell with these symptoms after recently touching a possum, especially if you were bitten or scratched, it is important to seek medical treatment early,”

NSW Health’s Acting Director of Communicable Diseases, Ms Keira Glasgow

In an emergency, always call Triple Zero (000).

Worldwide, tularaemia can affect a wide range of animals including rabbits, hares, rodents and wildlife.

The infection has only been found in two possums in Australia, which died in separate clusters in 2002 and 2003.

Contact details for local wildlife care groups can be found on the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment website and an app called “IFAW Wildlife Rescue” can be downloaded from the app store.

The Taronga Conservation Society’s Australian Registry of Wildlife Health is assisting the NSW Health investigation in this rare occurrence of the disease.

Find more information on tularaemia.

Other news: 2GB News [Radio interview – 3:36min – with NSW Health senior disease expert Keira Glasgow].


If you see any unusual signs of disease or deaths in wildlife, please contact your co-ordinator or FAWNA on fawna.nsw.inc@gmail.com.

Psittacosis virus – Lithgow and Blue Mountains residents urged to stay away from wild birds [NSW]

7/5/2020 NSW Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District Media Release:

“Blue Mountains and Lithgow residents should avoid contact with wild birds as they may carry a potentially dangerous bacteria. Since early April, three local residents have been diagnosed with psittacosis also known as ‘parrot fever’. Psittacosis is a rare bacterial infection acquired through exposure to infected birds or their droppings. Symptoms may develop between 5 and 28 days after exposure, and may range from a mild flu-like illness to severe pneumonia requiring hospitalisation. Older people generally experience more severe symptoms. The disease can be treated with antibiotics. The bacteria that causes this infection can be found in wild bird populations across the state and has recently been detected in wild birds from the upper Blue Mountains and Lithgow…….”

Additional news: 

Further information:

  • The term avian chlamydiosis refers to the disease in birds and psittacosis refers to the disease in humans. Psittacosis is also called parrot fever or ornithosis.
  • Please see the NSW Health psittacosis fact sheet for information including symptoms (in birds and humans), modes of transmission, prevention and advice. For further information please call your local public health unit on 1 300 066 055.
  • WHA fact sheet on Chlamydia in Australian wild birds
  • Avian chlamydiosis can be found in wild bird populations throughout NSW, however studies in Australia have indicated the prevalence is relatively low. It is important to note that clinical signs in birds are non-specific and not all birds with avian chlamydiosis will appear sick.
  • National Wildlife Biosecurity Guidelines

If you see any unusual signs of disease or deaths in wildlife, please contact your co-ordinator or FAWNA at fawna.nsw.inc@gmail.com