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Francisella tularensis subsp. holarctica CDC Live Vaccine Strain Biological Agent Reference Sheet (BARS)

Updated October 2, 2023
Disclaimer: Risk group, biosafety level, and all other precautions noted here are subject to change after a risk assessment by EHS.


Agent Type Risk Group Biosafety Level Animal Housing Biosafety Level
Bacteria  RG-2 BSL-2 ABSL-2

Agent Characteristics 

Risk Group:  RG-2 associated with human disease, rarely serious; preventive, or therapeutic interventions often available.

Agent Type:  Bacteria 

Description: Francisella tularensis, a gram-negative, non-spore forming bacterium, is the causal agent of tularemia (rabbit fever, deerfly fever). F. tularensis is endemic throughout North America and Eurasia and is one of the most infectious pathogenic bacteria known. Due to the low infective dose, ease of dissemination and high capacity for illness/death, wild type F. tularensis is considered a potential biological weapon and is classified as a select agent by the CDC. Though attenuated, F. tularensis subspecies holarctica causes Type B tularemia.

Host Range: Rabbits, humans, arthropod vectors             Host Shedding: Direct contact, Blood, Saliva

Routes of Exposure to Humans: Aerosol/Inhalation, Arthropod Vectors, Direct Contact, Mucous Membranes, Animal Bites, Contaminated Items, Ingestion, Percutaneous, Broken skin

Infectious Dose: Approximately 10 CFU (inhalation)       

Incubation Period: Symptoms may appear between 1 to 14 days, usually within 3-5 days

Health Hazards

Signs and symptoms of infection may include:

  • Flu-like symptoms (i.e. fever, headache, dehydration, weight loss, lethargy)
  • Respiratory symptoms (i.e. coughing, sneezing)
  • Lymphoreticular symptoms (i.e. enlarged internal organs or lymph nodes)

Immunizations: None available                            Prophylaxis*: None available

*Formal medical advice is obtained during medical consultations with Cornell Health or primary healthcare provider as needed.

Agent Viability 

Survival Outside Host Disinfection

Carcasses and organs: up to 133 days; grain dust,
bedbugs: 136 days; rabbit meat: 31days; straw: 192
days; water: up to 90 days; infected rabbit meat
stored frozen at -15° C has remained infective longer
than 3 years.

1:10 Bleach Dilution (30+ seconds)

For more guidance on disinfection see: disinfectant selection.

Laboratory Hazards 

  • High energy-creating activities (centrifugation, sonication, high pressure systems, vortexing, tube cap popping)
  • Handling of sharps (needles, scalpels, microtome blades, broken glass, etc.)
  • Splash/droplet-creating activities (shaking incubators, liquid culturing, mechanical pipetting)
  • Equipment contamination
  • Exposed skin/uncovered wounds

Laboratory Acquired Infection (LAI) History: Third most commonly reported (wildtype strain); almost all cases involved tularemia research; few cases related to work with infected animals and their ectoparasites; 225 cases up to 1976 with 2 deaths.

Laboratory Handling Guidelines 

Laboratory Biosafety Level (BSL): BSL-2

Attenuated Strain Alternatives: Francisella tularensis ssp. holarctica LVS; non-tularensis Francisella or other species.

Training Lab Engineering Controls Personal Protective Equipment
  • Eye Protection
  • Single gloves
  • Additional gloves
  • Snap-front lab coat with cinch cuffs
  • Disposable solid front grown
  • Additional mucous membrane protection
  • Disposable outer sleeves
  • Other: Respiratory protection

Waste Management: Regulated Medical Waste (RMW)

Shipping Guidance: Refer to EHS Biological Materials Shipping 

Animal Vivarium Guidance

Animal Housing Biosafety Level (ABSL): ABSL-2

Animal Biosecurity: Experimental animals are housed separately         

Perform InoculationsBiosafety Cabineet, Benchtop, Cage Changing Station

Change CagesBiosafety Cabinet, Benchtop, Cage Changing Station

Exposure and Spill Procedures 

Mucous Membranes: Flush eyes, mouth, or nose for 15 minutes at an eyewash station. See: responding to exposures.

Other Exposures: Wash with soap and water for 15 minutes (open wounds, sores, etc.) or a minimum of 20 seconds for areas with intact skin. See: responding to exposures.

Small Spills: Notify others working in the lab. Evacuate the area and allow 30 minutes for aerosols to settle. Don appropriate PPE. Cover area of the spill with paper towels and apply disinfectant, working from the perimeter toward the center. Allow 30 minutes of contact time before disposal and cleanup of spill materials. See spill cleanup.

Large Spills: Request assistance from the EHS Spill Team by calling CUPD dispatch. Call 911 from a campus phone or 607-255-1111 from a mobile phone.

Incident Reporting: Immediately report the incident to the supervisor and complete the EHS online injury/illness report as soon as possible.

Medical Follow-Up:

  • For students, seek medical attention at Cornell Health or local primary care provider. Call Cornell Health at 607-255-5155 (24-hour phone consultation line) or a local urgent care. 
  • For faculty and staff, seek medical evaluation with a local primary care provider or urgent care. Cornell Health does not see employees for post-exposure care. 
  • Emergencies: Call 911 from a campus phone or 607-255-1111 from a mobile phone. 
Cornell EHS would like to thank Emory University for the use of their Biological Agent Reference Sheet (BARS) format and some content.