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Comp Med. 2013 Apr;63(2):183-90.

Investigation of tularemia outbreak after natural infection of outdoor-housed rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) with Francisella tularensis.

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California National Primate Research Center, University of California, Davis, California, USA.


In the summer and fall of 2010, a series of outdoor-housed rhesus macaques were diagnosed with tularemia. PCR analysis or positive culture confirmed 11 cases, and 9 additional animals with similar clinical signs responded to empiric antibiotic treatment. A serosurvey conducted in the 9 mo after the outbreak found 53% (43 of 81 macaques) seropositivity in the southern outdoor colony, which had an average population of 700 animals. A prospective survey of small mammal reservoirs and arthropod vectors was conducted during the late summer and fall of 2011. PCR analyses of tissues from all 135 mice, 18 ground squirrels, 1 rat, 3 raccoons, 2 cats, and 3 jackrabbits and their fleas were negative for DNA of Francisella tularensis. Conventional PCR evaluation of stored DNA from affected macaques identified the causative organism as F. tularensis subsp. holartica. DNA evaluated from historic cases of tularemia in nonhuman primates confirmed that the organism that infected the colony during the late 1980s likewise was F. tularensis subsp. holartica. The macaque tularemia epizootic of 2010 appears to have been an extreme example of the periodic resurgence of tularemia. No evidence of rodent disease was found in the immediate vicinity during the 2011 interepizootic period. The concurrent widespread seropositivity (53%) and low incidence of clinical disease (2.7%) in 2010 suggests that this strain of Francisella has low pathogenicity in macaques.

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