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Biosecur Bioterror. 2013 Sep;11 Suppl 1:S247-57. doi: 10.1089/bsp.2012.0085.

Rodents as potential couriers for bioterrorism agents.

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Mare Lõhmus, PhD is Associate Professor, Department of Ecology and Genetics, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala, Sweden. Ingmar Janse, PhD, is Senior Scientist, and Bart J. van Rotterdam, PhD, is a Microbiologist, both in the Department of Zoonoses & Environmental Microbiology, Centre for Infectious Disease Control, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) , Section I & V, Bilthoven, the Netherlands. Frank van de Goot, PhD, is Senior Forensic Pathologist, Symbiant (pathology expert centre), Alkmaar, the Netherlands .


Many pathogens that can cause major public health, economic, and social damage are relatively easily accessible and could be used as biological weapons. Wildlife is a natural reservoir for many potential bioterrorism agents, and, as history has shown, eliminating a pathogen that has dispersed among wild fauna can be extremely challenging. Since a number of wild rodent species live close to humans, rodents constitute a vector for pathogens to circulate among wildlife, domestic animals, and humans. This article reviews the possible consequences of a deliberate spread of rodentborne pathogens. It is relatively easy to infect wild rodents with certain pathogens or to release infected rodents, and the action would be difficult to trace. Rodents can also function as reservoirs for diseases that have been spread during a bioterrorism attack and cause recurring disease outbreaks. As rats and mice are common in both urban and rural settlements, deliberately released rodentborne infections have the capacity to spread very rapidly. The majority of pathogens that are listed as potential agents of bioterrorism by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases exploit rodents as vectors or reservoirs. In addition to zoonotic diseases, deliberately released rodentborne epizootics can have serious economic consequences for society, for example, in the area of international trade restrictions. The ability to rapidly detect introduced diseases and effectively communicate with the public in crisis situations enables a quick response and is essential for successful and cost-effective disease control.

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