Respiratory and oral vaccination improves protection conferred by the live vaccine strain against pneumonic tularemia in the rabbit model

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Tularemia is a severe, zoonotic disease caused by a gram-negative bacterium, Francisella tularensis. We have previously shown that rabbits are a good model of human pneumonic tularemia when exposed to aerosols containing a virulent, type A strain, SCHU S4. We further demonstrated that the live vaccine strain (LVS), an attenuated type B strain, extended time to death when given by scarification. Oral or aerosol vaccination has been previously shown in humans to offer superior protection to parenteral vaccination against respiratory tularemia challenge. Both oral and aerosol vaccination with LVS were well tolerated in the rabbit with only minimal fever and no weight loss after inoculation. Plasma antibody titers against F. tularensis were higher in rabbits that were vaccinated by either oral or aerosol routes compared to scarification. Thirty days after vaccination, all rabbits were challenged with aerosolized SCHU S4. LVS given by scarification extended time to death compared to mock-vaccinated controls. One orally vaccinated rabbit did survive aerosol challenge, however, only aerosol vaccination extended time to death significantly compared to scarification. These results further demonstrate the utility of the rabbit model of pneumonic tularemia in replicating what has been reported in humans and macaques as well as demonstrating the utility of vaccination by oral and respiratory routes against an aerosol tularemia challenge.

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