Tularemia (also known as "rabbit fever") is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. The disease is endemic in North America, and parts of Europe and Asia. The primary vectors are ticks and deer flies, but the disease can also be spread through other arthropods. Rodents, rabbits, hares and ticks often serve as reservoir hosts. The disease is named after Tulare County, California. more...
Mechanism of infection
Francisella tularensis is one of the most infective bacteria known. Fewer than ten organisms have been shown to lead to severe illness. Humans are most often infected by tick bite or through handling an infected animal. Ingesting infected water, soil, or food can also cause infection. Tularemia can be acquired by inhalation; hunters are at a higher risk for this disease because of the potential of inhaling the bacteria during the skinning process. Tularemia is not spread directly from person to person.
Francisella tularensis is an intracellular bacterium, meaning that it is able to live as a parasite within host cells. It primarily infects macrophages, a type of white blood cell. It is thus able to evade the immune system. The course of disease involves spread of the organism to multiple organ systems, including the lungs, liver, spleen, and lymphatic system. The course of disease is similar regardless of the route of exposure. Mortality in untreated patients can be as high as 30%, but the disease responds well to antibiotics. The exact cause of death is unclear, but it is thought be a combination of multiple organ system failures.
A patient with tularemia will most often develop flu-like symptoms between 1-14 days after infection (most likely 3-5 days.) If the patient was infected through an insect or tick bite, an eschar may develop at the bite site.
The drug of choice is Streptomycin. Tularemia can also be treated with gentamicin, tetracycline or fluoroquinolone antibiotics.
Tularemia has been identified as a potential bioweapon by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Because of its ability to be aerosolized and the extremely small number of bacteria needed to cause infection, it could be used against a dense urban population.
No vaccine is currently available to the general public. The best way to prevent tularemia infection is to wear rubber gloves when handling or skinning rodents (especially rabbits), avoid ingesting uncooked wild game and untreated water sources, and wearing long-sleeved clothes and using a insect repellant to prevent tick bites.
In summer 2000, an outbreak of tularemia in Martha's Vineyard resulted in one fatality, and brought the interest of the CDC as a potential investigative ground for aerosolized Francisella tularensis. Over the following summers, Martha's Vineyard was identified as the only place in the world where documented cases of tularemia resulted from lawn mowing. The research may prove valuable in preventing bioterrorism.
In 2004, three researchers at Boston University Medical Center were accidentally infected with tularemia, after apparently failing to follow safety procedures.
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