Last week, in a somewhat unusual move, the Center for Disease Control told health care providers to be on the lookout for any tularemia outbreaks. Tularemia, also called Rabbit Fever, occurs naturally in the U.S., with an average of 124 cases per year between 1990-2000.
However, Tularemia is a leading biological weapon threat because of the hardiness of the bacteria, the extremely low doses needed to cause infection, and the variety of ways in which the bacteria can be disseminated. Tularemia is most deadly in an aerosol form, but can also be used to contaminate food and water.
Both the U.S. and Russia developed tularemia as a biological weapon in the 1960s. Although the U.S. is said to have destroyed its stocks between 1970-1973, Russia continued with their program into the early 1990s, according to Russian sources. It should be noted that the Russian program was successful in developing strains that are resistant to antibiotics.
Those infected with tularemia often suffer from high fevers, respiratory distress, ulcers at the site of infection, and in the more sever cases, pneumonia. The mortality rate among untreated victims is generally between 5-15 percent. If the disease progresses into pneumonia and remain untreated, then the mortality rate is as high as 60%. The disease is treated with antibiotics.
The CDC did not say they are issuing this report due to any recent outbreaks of the disease. It is possible that there has been some intelligence gathered in Afghanistan or elsewhere that has uncovered evidence of terrorists working with this agent. PoliceOne urges Law Enforcement to be aware of the potential threat and its indicators. One of the biggest indicators that tularemia has been used as a biological weapon would be that outbreaks occur in an urban environment as opposed to a rural community.