ALBANY, N.Y., November 1, 2005 – Scientists from around the world who are studying a disease that could be used as a bioterror weapon will converge at the Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort for a three-day Tularemia Conference November 6-8. The conference is coordinated by Albany Medical College’s Center for Immunology and Microbial Disease (CIMD), which this year received a $150,000 5-year grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in support of the annual conference.
The conference will be attended by approximately 185 scientists from throughout the United States and from as far away as Sweden and the Czech Republic and Kazakhstan. The U.S. government, including the NIH and the Department of Defense, is also sending numerous representatives to the meeting.
Tularemia, especially the pulmonary form, is considered a very dangerous potential biological weapon, according to conference organizer Dennis Metzger, Ph.D., an immunologist and CIMD director. He says tularemia is sometimes referred to as “rabbit fever” because it can be transmitted by direct contact with rabbits and other small mammals who act as reservoirs for the bacteria. The bacteria are naturally present in soil and water, and each year, small outbreaks occur in the United States. Infection via animals or contaminated soil or water usually causes a systemic disease involving fever, swollen lymph nodes and a sore throat, which is easily treated with antibiotics. However when bacteria are breathed into the lungs, tularemia can be quite lethal, and more difficult to treat with antibiotics. All research discussed at the conference will focus on pulmonary tularemia.
“Pulmonary tularemia is the form most likely to be used by bioterrorists, yet the great majority of research against this organism has focused on systemic infection rather than pulmonary tularemia,” said Dr. Metzger. That is changing, he said, as there has been more governmental focus on the disease in recent years.
Francisella tularensis, the scientific name of the bacterium that causes tularemia, is considered a Category A (the highest) biothreat by the NIAID. In fact, the bacteria were fashioned into a biological weapon by both the United States military and the former Soviet Union during the Cold War. (The U.S. terminated its biological weapons development program in the early 70s, and by 1973, destroyed its biological arsenal.) “The strains that were developed for biowarfare by the USSR and the U.S. were almost assuredly antibiotic resistant,” said Dr. Metzger, emphasizing the need for a vaccine against the illness, work that is currently being conducted by several scientists headed by Dr. Metzger at Albany Medical College under an $8.3 million grant from the NIAID.
The conference will begin with opening remarks on Sunday, November 6 at 2 p.m. and end on Tuesday, November 8 at approximately 3 p.m. Workshops will consist of invited talks, informal discussions and poster presentations.
Albany Medical Center is northeastern New York’s only academic health sciences center. It consists of Albany Medical College, Albany Medical Center Hospital; and the Albany Medical Center Foundation, Inc. Additional information about Albany Medical Center can be found at www.amc.edu.
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