Hares and rabbits are often affected by the hare plague.
But it can also be other wild animals, such as squirrels or pigeons.
Photo: Julian Stratenschulte / picture alliance / Julian Stratenschulte / dpa
A dead rabbit is currently worried by the authorities in Heiligenhaus in North Rhine-Westphalia.
The animal died of the highly contagious rabbit plague, according to the district hunters association.
This can also be transferred to people.
Dog owners in particular should be careful.
Rabbit plague, or tularemia, is a reportable, plague-like disease that occurs mainly in small mammals such as hares, rabbits or mice.
It usually triggers swelling of the lymph nodes and is often similar to blood poisoning.
In animals, the disease usually leads to death within a few days.
The pathogen Francisella tularensis can be transmitted to humans in various ways, for example through skin contact with infected animals or with contaminated water.
Human-to-human transmission unknown
Eating contaminated meat that has not been sufficiently heated or airborne dust intake can also lead to infection.
In some cases, the pathogen can also be transmitted through bites by mosquitoes, horseflies or ticks.
There is no known person-to-person transmission.
In the past, hunters who came into direct contact with hunted animals were often affected.
The symptoms are diverse, mostly people have flu-like symptoms, lymph node swelling or skin irritation at the point where the pathogen occurred.
With timely treatment, deaths are very rare.
Between 2008 and 2015, between 20 and 30 human rabbit plague cases were reported to the Robert Koch Institute each year.
It can be assumed that the actual number of cases is much higher, according to the institute's website.
Keep dogs on a leash
Dogs can also transmit rabbit plague if, for example, they find a dead animal and sniff at it or touch it.
Dogs usually do not get sick from the bacterium themselves, but can pass it on to their owners.
The District Hunters Association of Düsseldorf therefore advises caution.
Dog owners should currently only keep their pets on a leash and not leave walking paths.
Should a dog come into contact with a hare or rabbit, the experts advise to wash the animal's snout and paws quickly.
"Hares and rabbits found dead should not be touched and reported to the responsible district veterinary office or the public order office," said Susanne Bossy of the district hunters to the "Rheinische Post".
The case in the Mettmann district is not the first in recent weeks.
In North Rhine-Westphalia, several rabbits recently died of the disease, most recently a case was reported in the Paderborn district.