- Scientific name: Francisella tularensis; a bacterium (not a virus)
- Tularemia is the disease caused by this bacterium; it is also known as rabbit fever or deerfly fever.
- Tularemia spreads to humans from infected animal tissue.
- The disease can be spread through contaminated food and water.
- Tularemia is not contagious.
- A small amount of the bacteria can cause the disease.
- There are three types of tularemia:
Tularemia as a Weapon
Weaponized tularemia bacteria would most likely be disseminated through the air. But terrorists could also use the bacteria to contaminate food or water.
- If released into the air, F. tularensis can remain potent for up to two hours.
- The bacteria can survive at low temperatures in water, soil, hay, or frozen animal carcasses.
- The bacteria quickly degrade in heat once released in the air.
What We Don't Know About Tularemia as a Weapon
Experts are not sure exactly how small an amount of bacteria is needed to cause infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as few as 10 to 50 bacteria could cause disease.
Identifying an Attack
- An attack may go undetected until people start getting sick.
- Testing of powder or residue can confirm the presence of tularemia bacteria.
- Environmental monitoring of air and water samples can detect the presence of tularemia bacteria.
The tularemia infection takes several forms, depending on the strength of the bacteria and how they enter the body.
- People can contract this disease from the bite of an infected tick or fly.
- People can also contract this disease when an open wound comes in contact with infected meat.
- Symptoms typically appear between three to five days but sometimes as late as 14 days after exposure.
- Skin ulcers appear at the infection site.
- Lymph nodes in the area become swollen.
- The disease is treatable with antibiotics.
- With treatment, fewer than 2 percent of victims die from this form of tularemia.
The disease is contracted by inhaling the bacteria.
- Symptoms typically appear within three to five days but sometimes as late as 14 days after exposure.
- Early symptoms include sudden fever, chills, coughing, joint pain, weakness, and headaches, similar to the flu.
- Later symptoms include inflamed eyes, oral ulcers, severe pneumonia, chest pain, and respiratory failure.
- This form of the disease is treatable by antibiotics.
- Inhalational tularemia has a 60 percent fatality rate if untreated.
This is a secondary form of tularemia that develops after a victim has contracted inhalational tularemia.
This form of tularemia attacks the circulatory system as well as the respiratory system.
Symptoms include fever, extreme exhaustion, and weight loss.
- This form of tularemia is treatable with antibiotics.
- The recovery rate is similar to that for inhalational tularemia.
All forms of tularemia are difficult to diagnose because early symptoms resemble those of a cold and flu.