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Clin Microbiol Rev. 2002 Oct;15(4):631-46.


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Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, CBS Porton Down, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP4 0JQ, United Kingdom.


Francisella tularensis is the etiological agent of tularemia, a serious and occasionally fatal disease of humans and animals. In humans, ulceroglandular tularemia is the most common form of the disease and is usually a consequence of a bite from an arthropod vector which has previously fed on an infected animal. The pneumonic form of the disease occurs rarely but is the likely form of the disease should this bacterium be used as a bioterrorism agent. The diagnosis of disease is not straightforward. F. tularensis is difficult to culture, and the handling of this bacterium poses a significant risk of infection to laboratory personnel. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay- and PCR-based methods have been used to detect bacteria in clinical samples, but these methods have not been adequately evaluated for the diagnosis of pneumonic tularemia. Little is known about the virulence mechanisms of F. tularensis, though there is a large body of evidence indicating that it is an intracellular pathogen, surviving mainly in macrophages. An unlicensed live attenuated vaccine is available, which does appear to offer protection against ulceroglandular and pneumonic tularemia. Although an improved vaccine against tularemia is highly desirable, attempts to devise such a vaccine have been limited by the inability to construct defined allelic replacement mutants and by the lack of information on the mechanisms of virulence of F. tularensis. In the absence of a licensed vaccine, aminoglycoside antibiotics play a key role in the prevention and treatment of tularemia.

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