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Keywords:

  • tularemia;
  • Francisella;
  • seroprevalence;
  • risk group;
  • Germany

Abstract

In 2005 and 2006, Francisella tularensis unexpectedly reemerged in western Germany, when several semi-free-living marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) in a research facility died from tularemia and a group of hare hunters became infected. It is believed that hunters may have an elevated risk to be exposed to zoonotic pathogens, including F. tularensis. A previous cross-sectional study of the German population (n=6883) revealed a prevalence of 0.2%. Here, we investigated 286 sera from individuals mainly hunting in districts with emerging tularemia cases (group 1) and 84 sera from a region currently not conspicuous for tularemia (group 2). Methods included standard enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), Western blot analysis and indirect immunofluorescence assay. We found five out of the 286 hunters (1.7%; 95% CI 0.6–4.0%) in group 1 positive with standard ELISA and Western blot, but none in the Berlin area (group 2; 95% CI 0–0.04%). Group 1 showed an elevated risk for hunters to be seropositive for F. tularensis compared with the cross-sectional study (OR=7.7; P<0.001). This indicates a higher prevalence for tularemia in hunters of a suspected endemic region of Germany.