KIRAS Security Research

2006

TULMON

Investigation on the natural occurence of Tularemia bacteria and their differentiation from the biological warfare agent

Tularemia is a zoonotic disease caused by the highly infectious bacterium Francisella tularensis ssp.. Regular endemic outbreaks of natural origin are commonly seen in the northern hemisphere including areas in the north-eastern part of Austria. Furthermore, F. tularensis is a naturally occurring potential bacteriological agent for biological warfare in Austria. Without treatment Tularemia can take a lethal course in humans. According to literature small rodents are particularly important as reservoir animals in the maintenance and spread of tularemia within an animal reservoir and into humans.

This study was the first of its kind in Austria to monitor the endemic occurrence of Francisella tularensis ssp. in small rodents, hares, fleas, ticks as well as in samples of water and mud.

The investigations were carried out in two endemic areas (Korneuburg and Zwerndorf) in Lower Austria in 2008. Four times within the year,  399 rodents in total were captured and examined for the presence of Francisella tularensis ssp.. 

Surprisingly, the culture of Francisella tularensis ssp. turned out to be negative in all rodents and fleas. The initially planned biochemical and molecular-biological typing of Francisella tularensis to provide vital basic knowledge in case of future suspicious human outbreaks for discrimination of naturally occurring disease and intentional release of the agent was therefore lapsed.

 In trastto th roents,Tularemia was diagnosed in 2 of 5 brown hares found dead (40%) in Zwerndorf region during project duration. Moreover, in previous years Francisella tularensis ssp. was found more frequently in brown hares shot in the Zwerndorf region than in the investigated rodents. In the Korneuburg region five cases of Tularemia out of 149 shot brown hares (3,4%) and tularemia-like pathological features in  further 11 shot brown hares (7,4%) also confirmed the endemic occurrence of this zoonosis during project duration.

In this project, new knowledge about potential sources of infection could be acquired underlining the importance of brown hares as a reservoir in this respect. The outcome of this project did not only advance scientific knowledge but generated crucial information for future health and security policy in both the civilian and military sectors.

Project leader:
Univ. Prof. Dr. Walter ARNOLD
Forschungsinstitut für Wildtierkunde und Ökologie (FIWI) der Veterinärmedizinischen Universität Wien

Project partner:
FIWI: Ass. Prof. Dr. Theodora STEINECK (Veterinärmedizinische Forschung)
Mag. Erich KLANSEK (Ökologie, Wildtiermanagement, Naturschutz)
Dr. Christoph BEIGLBÖCK (Veterinärmedizinische Forschung)
Österreichische Agentur für Gesundheit und Ernährungssicherheit GmbH (AGES), Institut für veterinärmedizinische Untersuchungen Mödling
Dr. Erwin HOFER
Bundesministerium für Landesverteidigung (BMLV)
ObstVet Dr. Michael KREINER (FGG 8)
MjrA Dr. Herbert TOMASO (FGG 8)
Mag. Georg ECKER (ABC-Abwehrschule)
HptmVet Mag. Katharina FAUKAL (ABC-Abwehrschule)

Contact:
Univ.Prof. Dr. Walter ARNOLD
Forschungsinstitut für Wildtierkunde und Ökologie
Savoyenstr. 1
1160 Wien
Tel: 01 4890915
Fax: 01 4890915333
E-Mail: walter.arnold@vu-wien.ac.at

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