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Tularemia: History, Epidemiology, Pathogen Physiology, and Clinical Manifestations


Address for correspondence: Anders Sjöstedt, Department of Clinical Bacteriology, Clinical Microbiology, Umeå University, SE-901 85 Umeå, Sweden. Voice: +46-90-785-1120; fax: +46-90-785-2225.


Abstract: Francisella tularensis has been recognized as a human pathogen for almost 100 years and is the etiological agent of the zoonotic disease tularemia. Soon after its discovery, it became recognized as an important pathogen in several parts of the world, for example, in the United States and Soviet Union. The number of tularemia cases in the two countries peaked in the 1940s and has thereafter steadily declined. Despite this decline, there was still much interest in the pathogen in the 1950s and 1960s since it is highly infectious and transmissible by aerosol, rendering it a potent biothreat agent. In fact, it was one of the agents that was given the highest priority in the offensive programs of the United States and Soviet Union. After termination of the offensive programs in the 1960s, the interest in F. tularensis diminished significantly and little research was carried out for several decades. Outbreaks of tularemia during the last decade in Europe, for example, in Kosovo, Spain, and Scandinavia, led to a renewed public interest in the disease. This, together with a massive increase in the research funding, in particular in the United States since 2001, has resulted in a significant increase in the number of active Francisella researchers. This article summarizes, predominantly with a historical perspective, the epidemiology and clinical manifestations of tularemia and the physiology of F. tularensis.