Terrorism and Tularemia: Don’t let ’em catch you off-guard

Tularemia, also known as “rabbit fever,” is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis.

It is usually carried by rabbits, ticks, and deer flies, but can be carried by many other animals as well.

Hunters and trappers are at a higher risk for this disease because of the potential for inhaling the bacteria while skinning the carcass.

Tularemia is also contracted from tick bites, eating infected animal meat that is undercooked, and from drinking water contaminated by an infected carcass.

How is Tularemia Transmitted

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, which are a type of white blood cell. Since macrophages are an integral part of the immune system, this bacterium then spreads to multiple organ systems, including the lungs, liver, spleen, and lymphatic system.

Symptoms of Tularemia/deer fly fever symptoms

Symptoms may develop up to two weeks after infection, but 3-5 days is the typical timeframe.

Tularemia contracted by inhalation is much more dangerous than if contracted through skin contact.

Symptoms include:

  1. A fever
  2. Swollen lymph nodes
  3. Sore throat
  4. Difficulty breathing
  5. Chest pain
  6. Abdominal pain
  7. Diarrhea
  8. vomiting.

Ulcers (tularemia skin lesions) usually develop on the skin at the site of infection. More severe cases usually develop into pneumonia. Treatment consists of antibiotics, usually streptomycin or gentamicin.

Tularemia is one of the most infectious pathogenic bacteria known. In fact, the bacterium Francisella tularensis is renowned for causing infections among researchers in laboratories at the slightest opportunity.

This trait, combined with the fact that it works very well in aerosol sprayers, makes it a prime alternative for a terrorist with a crop duster or similar device.

A report from the World Health Organization projected a casualty rate of 250,000, including 19,000 deaths, if Francisella tularensis were sprayed on a city of five million people or more.

History

The Japanese used Francisella tularensis against the Chinese in World War II, as well as typhoid, smallpox, anthrax, glanders, cholera, and a long list of other agents.

The United States did research on it until 1970.

The Soviets have had a longstanding interest in tularemia and weaponized it extensively in their Biopreparat biological agent weapons program.

With that program in disarray after the Soviet collapse, the security of the stored Biopreparat weapons has come into question.

Who has those weapons now?