Tularemia vaccine tests slated to begin

A disease that is normally found in rodents and rabbits has raised enough concern over its potential use as a bioterrorist threat that health officials are kicking off a study to examine potential vaccines.

Dr. Jack Stapleton, a professor in the University of Iowa's internal medicine department, told THOnline.com that the University of Iowa is now seeking volunteers for a study involving the tularemia vaccine.

Tularemia comes from the bacteria Francisella tularensis, which is commonly found in some rodents, rabbits and hares. When the bacteria infects humans, it can cause a disease called tularemia, also known as rabbit fever. Stapelton said that normally it is a disease that affects rabbit skinners.

Officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Control, however, fear that the bacteria could be used as a bioterrorist agent. This concern, Stapelton said, is what has prompted the university’s study.

“During the Cold War, Russia developed weaponized tularensis,” Stapleton told THOnline.com. “You could get a lot of people sick with it.”

The disease can strike humans in two forms. The first occurs when the bacteria enters the skin, where it then is spread through the lymph nodes. Rabbit skinners who get tularemia often have swollen lymph nodes of the arm.

“The more dangerous form of tularemia happens if you inhale it,” Stapleton said, THOnline.com reports. “You could get pneumonia. It can also get into your eye and you could get ocular disease.”

If not treated, the inhaled form of the disease kills about 30 percent of the infected people, he said.

Stapleton said the University of Iowa is seeking healthy adults between the ages of 18 to 45 to participate in the research study of tularemia vaccine. The study will examine the effectiveness of the tularemia vaccine and will include nine visits to the hospital over a period of seven months.