Detection of Francisella tularensis in three vole species in Central Europe.
Francisella tularensis is a zoonotic, gram-negative bacterium that causes tularemia in humans. Depending on its subspecies and the route of transmission, mild to lethal courses have been reported. F. tularensis subsp. holarctica is the only subspecies found in Europe and affects a plenitude of vertebrates including lagomorphs and rodents. Population outbreaks of certain rodent species are likely to be involved in the transmission of this pathogen. This molecular survey aims to evaluate the presence of F. tularensis in small mammals from three Central European countries. Using a real-time polymerase chain reaction, F. tularensis DNA was detected in common voles (Microtus arvalis) from Switzerland and in field voles (Microtus agrestis) and a bank vole (Myodes glareolus) from Germany, but not in any other small mammal species. All common voles from the Czech Republic were negative for F. tularensis DNA. The prevalence in the three vole species varied between 1.3% and 3.0%. In conclusion, Francisella tularensis DNA was detected in three vole species in two of three countries investigated. The observed low prevalence raises questions on the role of voles for the transmission of Francisella tularensis in Central Europe.