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Clues Found On How Deadly Bacterium Gains Foothold

ophils did not kill Francisella well. With new techniques, many of them more sensitive than in years past, we were able to look at that scenario more closely," Allen added.

The team mixed bacteria with neutrophils taken from healthy volunteers and studied the results.

"We found the neutrophils could ingest the bacteria but were not able to kill them. The Francisella somehow inhibit the ability of the neutrophils to perform two defensive functions that otherwise would kill the bacteria," Allen said.

One of the defensive functions is dependent on oxygen, and the other is oxygen-independent. Ideally, the two functions will be activated and kill the bacteria while they are trapped in a particular compartment within the neutrophils.

"The bacteria prevent these two functions from working in part by blocking the assembly of certain enzymes. After a few hours, the bacteria can escape the compartment instead of being killed, which leaves it able to replicate and cause harm," Allen said.

The researchers now seek to identify how the bacteria prevent neutrophils from mobilizing its defenses and learn more about how those defenses normally function. Additional insights could help with the eventual development of therapies or vaccines against tularemia.

A person infected with tularemia cannot pass the disease on to another person. Hunters are at an increased risk of infection if they skin an infected rabbit. Using blasts of water to clean machines, such as mowers, that have inadvertently come into contact with the carcasses of infected rabbits also can be a risk, as it makes the bacteria easy to inhale.

Allen noted that tularemia infections contracted though the skin are generally less serious to an individual. However, the inhaled form can be fatal if a person does not receive antibiotic treatment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported an average of 124 suspe
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