Researchers at the University of Iowa are studying a deadly form of bacteria that could be used as a bioterrorist weapon. It’s called Francisella tularensis. It can be found naturally across the Northern Hemisphere and can be contracted through insect bites, infected rabbits or through contaminated food, water or air.
Lee Ann Allen, a professor of internal medicine and microbiology at the U-of-I, says inhaling even ten individual bacteria can prove deadly. Allen says the effects of tularemia are treatable but one problem is, you might not know you’ve been infected.
There are antibiotics that can cure it, if it’s caught early, but Allen says if you’re infected by tularemia or “rabbit fever,” the symptoms are vague and resemble the flu. She says the U.S. and Russia had stockpiled the bacteria during the Cold War. While those stockpiles have since been eliminated, she says potential bioterrorists could still obtain the bacteria and weaponize it.
Allen says the U-of-I research team is working toward a general goal. She says they hope to learn enough about the bacteria to eventually develop vaccines to prevent the bacteria from hurting people, to counteract its effects, or both