University of Texas researchers to fight tularemia

Researchers with the University of Texas - San Antonio have received a patent to create a vaccine to fight tularemia, an infectious agent that has  the potential to be a deadly bioterrorist weapon.

Karl Klose, director of the UTSA South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, told that tularemia is a serious bioterrorist threat that, when inhaled into the lungs, is capable of killing approximately 30 percent of the people it infects.

“The problem is if someone intentionally tries to spread this organism around, it can cause a lot of problem in the human population,” Klose told

UTASA scientists have been working with the dangerous microbe in a biosafety level three lab with the goal of genetically crippling the disease in order to create a vaccine.

“We crippled the organism so that it can no longer cause disease,” Klose told “And now it functions as a vaccine. It’s not dead. The organism is not dead. It just cannot cause disease anymore because we basically changed it.”

Klose reported that early work using rats and mice have, thus far, been promising.

Tularemia, also known as “rabbit fever,” is a disease caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. Tularemia is typically found in animals, especially rodents, rabbits and hares. Tularemia is usually a rural disease and has been reported in all U.S. states except Hawaii.

Approximately 200 human cases of tularemia are reported each year in the United States. Most cases occur in the south-central and western states. Nearly all cases occur in rural areas and are caused by the bites of ticks and biting flies or from handling infected rodents, rabbits or hares. Cases also resulted from inhaling airborne bacteria and from laboratory accidents.