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Research article2017Peer reviewedOpen access

Francisella tularensis in muscle from diseased hares - a risk factor for humans?

Hestvik, G.; Uhlhorn, H.; Jinnerot, T.; Akerstrom, S.; Sodersten, F.; Gavier-Widen, D.


Tularemia caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis is a zoonotic disease. Tularemia is a common disease in the hare, and as a game species can be an important source of infection for humans. In this study, hares diagnosed with tularemia were examined with the aim to investigate whether the muscle (meat) had any pathological changes and/or contained F. tularensis. Real-time PCR and/or immunohistochemistry (IHC) detected the bacteria in muscle samples from 40 out of 43 investigated hares. IHC showed that bacteria were few and most commonly located in the peri- and endomysium. Histopathology showed occasional perimysial necroses and mild inflammation in association to the bacteria. Attempts to culture from 14 muscle samples were successful in two cases, both stored in the freezer <1 year. The result of this study shows that since F. tularensis is present in the muscle of infected hares, there is a risk for human infection when consuming undercooked hare meat. The risk is enhanced by the fact that some hares do not have easily detected gross lesions. The study contributes to a better understanding of sources of infection and risk factors for humans to contract tularemia.


Francisella; hare meat; immunohistochemistry; pathology; tularemia

Published in

Epidemiology and Infection
2017, Volume: 145, number: 16, pages: 3449-3454