Tularemia, a zoonotic disease caused by Francisella tularensis, has been endemic in certain areas of northern Sweden for almost a century and it has emerged in areas of middle Sweden during the past decade. In 2019 more than 1,000 individuals were diagnosed with tularemia. The infection is a local public health threat and incidences in Sweden are as high as 800/100,000. It is very contagious and a common laboratory-acquired infection. The pathogen is also a bioterrorism agent, since aerosols of ssp. tularensis are highly infectious and cause a life-threatening disease.
The disease occurs with a seasonal pattern and is especially prevalent in late summer and autumn. The reasons for its geographical distribution and seasonal occurrence remain largely unexplained since epidemiological information is scarce.
We now aim to identify parameters that significantly contribute to the outbreaks of tularemia in Sweden and to develop predictive models for these outbreaks and thereafter to; i) validate the models on retrospective data from tularemia endemic areas in Sweden, ii) to prognosticate the future occurrence of tularemia in Sweden and how it will be affected by climate change, and iii) implement the models so they will be operational in real-time and thereby can predict future outbreaks so these can be confined.
With our model at hand, health authorities could be alerted for the upcoming situation, which in turn would expedite preventive measures, diagnosis, and treatment of patients. Further, by defining the major transmission risk factors, useful recommendations on how to reduce the risk for transmission could be given to the public.
The project will bring new insights and allow precise modeling of the effect of climate factors, such as global warming, on the occurrence and spread of tularemia in the future. In addition, it will serve as proof-of-concept and form a basis for the modeling of the spread of other vector-borne diseases.