Tularemia is an infectious zoonotic disease caused by one of several subspecies of Francisella tularensis bacteria. Infections by F. tularensis are common throughout the northern hemisphere and have been detected in more than 250 wildlife species. In Alaska, US, where the pathogen was first identified in 1938, studies have identified F. tularensis antibodies in a diverse suite of taxa, including insects, birds, and mammals. However, few such investigations have been conducted recently and knowledge about the current distribution and disease ecology of F. tularensis is limited, particularly in Arctic Alaska, an area undergoing rapid environmental changes from climate warming. To help address these information gaps and provide insights about patterns of exposure among wildlife, we assessed the seroprevalence of F. tularensis antibodies in mammals and tundra-nesting geese from the Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska, 2014–17. With a commercially available slide agglutination test, we detected antibodies in 14.7% of all individuals sampled (n=722), with titers ranging from 1:20 to 1:320. We detected significant differences in seroprevalence between family groups, with Canidae (foxes, Vulpes spp.) and Sciuridae (Arctic ground squirrel, Spermophilus parryii) having the highest seroprevalence at 21.5% and 33.3%, respectively. Mean seroprevalence for Ursidae (polar bears, Ursus maritimus) was 13.3%, whereas Cervidae (caribou, Rangifer tarandus) had comparatively low seroprevalence at 6.5%. Antibodies were detected in all Anatidae species sampled, with Black Brant (Branta bernicla nigricans) having the highest seroprevalence at 13.6%. The detection of F. tularensis antibodies across multiple taxa from the Arctic Coastal Plain and its nearshore marine region provides evidence of exposure to this pathogen throughout the region and highlights the need for renewed surveillance in Alaska.

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Author notes

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Current address: US Forest Service, Chugach National Forest, Cordova Ranger District, PO Box 280, Cordova, Alaska 99574, USA

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Current address: US Fish and Wildlife Service, Marine Mammals Management–Polar Bears, 1011 E Tudor Road, Anchorage, Alaska 99503, USA