Tularemia is an infectious disease caused by a hardy bacterium, Francisella tularensis, found in animals (especially rodents, rabbits, and hares).
1. Does tularemia occur naturally in the United States?
Yes. It is a widespread disease of animals. Approximately 200 cases of tularemia in humans are reported annually in the United States. Nearly all cases occur in rural areas and are associated with the bites of infective ticks and biting flies or with the handling of infected rodents, rabbits, or hares. Occasional cases result from inhaling infectious aerosols and from laboratory animals.
2. Why are we concerned about tularemia as a bioweapon?
Francisella tularensis is highly infectious: a small number of bacteria (10-50 organisms), can cause disease. If F. tularensis were used as a bioweapon, the bacteria would likely be made airborne for exposure by inhalation. Persons who inhale an infectious aerosol would generally experience severe respiratory illness, including life-threatening pneumonia and systemic infection, if they were not treated. The bacteria that cause tularemia occur widely in nature and could be isolated and grown in quantity in a laboratory, although manufacturing an effective aerosol weapon would require considerable sophistication.
3. Can someone become infected with the tularemia bacteria from another person?
No. People have not been known to transmit the infection to others, so infected persons do not need to be isolated.
4. Can tularemia be treated with antibiotics?
Yes. After potential exposure or diagnosis, early treatment is recommended with an antibiotic from the tetracycline (such as doxycycline) or fluoriquinoilone (such as ciprofloxacin) class. The antibiotics streptomycin and gentamicin can also be used.
5. Is there a vaccine available for tularemia?
In the past, a vaccine for tularemia has been used to protect laboratory workers, but it is currently under review by the Food and Drug Administration.