A researcher at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Frederick, Maryland, has contracted rabbit fever—also known as tularemia, USAMRIID officials announced today. The illness is caused by the bacteria Francisella tularensis, one of several biosafety level 3 pathogens that scientists work with at USAMRIID. The researcher, a woman who was working on a project to develop a vaccine against the disease, is "recuperating at home and is responding well to antibiotics," according to a press release issued by the institute.
Rabbits, rodents, and other animals harbor the microbe. Nearly 200 cases of tularemia in the United States are reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention every year; most of them are caused by bites from ticks and flies and from handling animals infected from the disease. The illness can also be contracted by inhaling airborne bacteria in the lab.
“We want to reassure the Frederick and Fort Detrick communities that this disease is not spread from person to person,” USAMRIID Commander John P. Skvorak said in a statement. “Our immediate concern is to make sure our employee is receiving the appropriate medical care. Secondly, we are working to determine how she may have been infected and to ensure that no one else has been affected. Laboratory acquired infections are rare, but if they do occur, we need to review our procedures to minimize future incidents.”