Francisella tularensis is a highly infectious zoonotic agent causing the disease tularemia. The common hamster (Cricetus cricetus) is considered a pest in eastern Europe, and believed to be a source of human tularemia infections. We examined the role of the common hamster in the natural cycle of tularemia using serologic methods on 900 hamsters and real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) on 100 hamsters in an endemic agricultural area. We collected 374 Ixodes acuminatus ticks from the hamsters and tested them by real-time PCR. All tests were negative. To examine clinical signs, pathology, and histopathology of acute tularemia infection similar to the natural infection, two hamsters were infected with a large dose of a wild strain of F. tularensis ssp. holarctica. After a short period of apathy, the animals died on the eighth and ninth days postinfection. The pathologic, histopathologic, and immunohistochemical examination contributed to the diagnosis of septicemia in both cases. Our results confirmed previous findings that common hamsters are highly sensitive to F. tularensis. We conclude that although septicemic hamsters may pose substantial risk to humans during tularemia outbreaks, hamsters in interepizootic periods do not act as a main reservoir of F. tularensis.
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Vol. 46 • No. 4