Weaponizable tularemia: There really are ‘attack rabbits’

Weaponizable tularemia: There really are ‘attack rabbits’

[Ed. – Someone owes Jimmy Carter an apology.]

Don’t let its host of choice fool you — tularemia is a serious disease. Humans can contract the nastiness through the bites of ticks and flies or handling the corpses of infected bunnies. Failure to cook said bunnies thoroughly will also make you sick. And that’s not all. Back in 2000, 15 residents of Martha’s Vineyard came down with “rabbit fever” in a single season — an outbreak thought to have started when someone ran over an infected rabbit with a lawnmower. …

The United States, Russia, and Japan all experimented with tularemia’s use as a bioweapon during World War II. That’s why researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) are peering into the bacterium’s inner workings to learn how we might fight such an outbreak. And they’re finding tularemia to be a rather sneaky microbe. …

Though the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention reports an average of just 130 human cases of tularemia each year, the agency takes the potential for its use in bioterrorism very seriously.

As an epidemiologist with the CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, Kiersten Kugeler says tularemia is a cause for concern because it’s both highly infectious and widely available in nature. “CDC operates a national program for bioterrorism preparedness and response which includes stockpiling antibiotics to treat infected persons,” she said. And just last week the CDC announced a cooperative effort with other federal agencies, international organizations, and foreign governments to launch the Global Health Security Agenda, which Kugeler said is designed to “standardize and unify response to disease outbreaks and close gaps in surveillance and response.”

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