Abiotic and biotic contributors to support inter-epidemic Francisella tularensis in an agricultural peri-urban environment.
To characterize the inter-epidemic ecology of Francisella tularensis, we surveyed vertebrates and invertebrates for the abundance, spatial distribution, and status of infection at a site in northern California that had evidence of endemic type B tularemia. We collected 2910 mosquitoes, 77 biting flies, 704 ticks, 115 mammals, and 1911 aquatic invertebrates in 2013-2014. Real-time PCR on all mosquitoes, 40 biting flies, 113 aquatic invertebrates, and 650 ticks did not detect F. tularensis DNA. Indirect enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) on 109 mammals revealed 2 (of 2, 100%) seropositive feral cats, 1 (of 24, 4.5%) seropositive black rat, and 5 (of 10, 50%) seropositive Virginia opossums. A riparian reserve, ˜1 km from the primate research center, had the highest seroprevalence in mammals and the highest capture success for invertebrate vectors whereas opossums, cats, and ground squirrels in close proximity to the primate center had high seroprevalence and abundant fleas. Well-vegetated regions with standing water appeared to be ideal habitats for biotic components of tularemia enzootic persistence. Mesocarnivores may facilitate the spread of F. tularensis, and high densities of rodents and their fleas may be a mechanism for amplification and spillover.