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Research article2020Peer reviewed

Selective Predation by Owls on Infected Bank Voles (Myodes glareolus) as a Possible Sentinel of Tularemia Outbreaks

Ecke, Frauke; Johansson, Anders; Forsman, Mats; Khalil, Hussein; Magnusson, Magnus; Hornfeldt, Birger


Tularemia is a widely spread zoonotic disease in the northern hemisphere, caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. In humans, tularemia is an acute febrile illness with incidence peaks in late summer to early autumn of outbreak years, but there is no early warning system in place that can reduce the impact of disease by providing timely risk information. In this study, we revisit previously unpublished data on F. tularensis in water, sediment, soil, and small mammals from 1984 in northern Sweden. In addition, we used human case data from the national surveillance system for tularemia in the same year. In the environmental and small mammal material, bank vole (Myodes glareolus) samples from urine and bladder were the only samples that tested positive for F. tularensis. The prevalence of F. tularensis among trapped bank voles was 13.5%, although all six bank voles that were retrieved from owl nest boxes in early May tested positive. Forty-two human tularemia cases were reported from August to December in 1984. Based on these results, we encourage investigating the potential role of tularemia-infected bank voles retrieved from owl nest boxes in spring as an early warning for outbreaks of tularemia among humans in summer and autumn of the same year.


Aegolius funereus; early warning system; Francisella tularensis; nest box; predator; Sweden

Published in

Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases
2020, Volume: 20, number: 8, pages: 630-632