News Release

December 17, 2004 

Officials Following Up on Bacteria Detection

City and county health officials are following up on the detection by air sensors of low levels of two bacteria brucella and Fransicella tularensis. The monitor detected brucella on December 10 and 13 and Fransicella tularensis on December 16. The detections occurred on the east side of Houston and Harris County.

Brucella causes brucellosis, a flu like illness that can last several days and is treated with antibiotics. Brucella is most often seen in people with contact with infected farm animals. Tularemia is a treatable illness occasionally found in humans but more common in rabbits and rodents and is also known as rabbit fever.

Health officials said that though the bacteria is found naturally in the environment, they are taking precautionary measures to determine if there have been any human cases of tularemia and brucellosis. So far none have been found.

The air sensors are part of a nationwide BioWatch system inaugurated in March, 2003 to monitor for intentionally-released bacterial agents but may detect naturally occurring organisms. Fransicella tularensis was also detected in October of 2003 in eastern Harris County through the system.

Health officials say there is nothing to indicate an intentional release of the organism but that the investigation is continuing to see if a naturally occurring explanation for the sensor detection can be identified.

Additional information about tularemia