Tularaemia: An Ideal Weapon For Biowarfare

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Thumb ulcer caused by tularemia (photo:CDC)

According to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:

Francisella tularensis, the organism that causes tularemia, is one of the most infectious pathogenic bacteria known, requiring inoculation with or inhalation of as few as 10 organisms to cause disease. It is considered to be a dangerous potential biological weapon because of its extreme infectivity, ease of dissemination and substantial capacity to cause illness and death.

During World War II, the potential of F. tularensis as a biological weapon was studied by the Japanese as well as by the U.S and its allies.

Tularemia was one of several biological weapons stockpiled by the U.S. military in the late 1960s, all of which were destroyed by 1973. The Soviet Union continued weapons production of antibiotic and vaccine-resistant strains into the early 1990s.

What is tularemia?
tularemia is a potentially serious illness that occurs naturally in the United States and across Europe,including the UK. It is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis found in animals (especially rodents, rabbits, and hares) and can also be transmitted by ticks. It’s a zoonotic disease, that’s one that can be spread across species, from animals to humans. it can lie dormant for weeks, can survive prolonged immersion in water, and can be found in straw, hay and soil as well as the carcasses of animals.

What are the Symptoms of tularemia?

  • sudden fever
  • chills
  • headaches
  • diarrhoea
  • muscle aches
  • joint pain
  • dry cough
  • progressive weakness
  • People can also catch pneumonia and develop chest pain, bloody sputum and can have trouble breathing and even sometimes stop breathing.

Other symptoms of tularemia depend on how a person was exposed to the  bacteria. These symptoms can include ulcers on the skin or mouth, swollen and painful lymph glands, swollen and painful eyes, and a sore throat.

How Does tularemia Spread?
People can get tularemia many different ways:

  • being bitten by an infected tick, deerfly or other insect
  • handling infected animal carcasses
  • eating or drinking contaminated food or water
  • breathing in the bacteria, F. tularensis

tularemia is not known to be spread from person to person. People who have tularemia do not need to be isolated. People who have been exposed to the tularemia bacteria should be treated as soon as possible. The disease can be fatal if it is not treated with antibiotics.

How Soon Do Infected People Get Sick?
Symptoms usually appear 3 to 5 days after exposure to the bacteria, but can take as long as 14 days.

What Should I Do if I Think I Have tularemia?
Consult your doctor at the first sign of illness. Be sure to let the doctor know if you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system. Obviously, in a collapse situation calling in medical assistance may not be an option. Stocking up on antibiotics is essential as there is no other treatment for a serious case of the disease.

Please remember that cycline antibiotics become toxic as the age and taking cycline antibiotics past their use by date can cause serious issues and can lead to death.

How Is tularemia Treated?
Your doctor will most likely prescribe antibiotics, which must be taken according to the directions supplied with your prescription to ensure the best possible result.

It’s advisable when storing antibiotics to have as wide a variety as possible available. Antibiotics are antibiotics and those for treating animals and even fish will do  no harm to humans though the same allergy and dosage advice should be followed as would be used with human products.

If you do store animal antibiotics it’s good practice to look up and note the human dose of each drug so you can calculate the correct dosage from your supplies.

A vaccine for tularemia is under review by the Food and Drug Administration but is not currently available in the United States.

What Can I Do To Prevent Becoming Infected with tularemia?
tularemia occurs naturally in many parts of the United States. Use insect repellent containing DEET on your skin, or treat clothing with repellent containing permethrin, to prevent insect bites. Wash your hands often, using soap and warm water, especially after handling animal carcasses. Be sure to cook your food thoroughly and that your water is from a safe source.

Note any change in the behavior of your pets (especially rodents, rabbits, and hares) or livestock, and consult a veterinarian if they develop unusual symptoms.

Can tularemia Be Used As a Weapon?
Francisella tularensis is very infectious. A small number (10-50 or so organisms) can cause disease. If F. tularensis were used as a weapon, the bacteria would likely be made airborne for exposure by inhalation.

People who inhale an infectious aerosol would generally experience severe respiratory illness, including life-threatening pneumonia and systemic infection, if they are not treated. The bacteria that cause tularemia occur widely in nature and could be isolated and grown in quantity in a laboratory, although manufacturing an effective aerosol weapon would require considerable sophistication.

There are several other conditions that should be on our radar:

Take care

Liz

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