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Yersiniosis refers to the group of diseases caused by members of the pathogenic strains of Yersinia pseudotuberculosis and enterolitica [3,6,10]. Both species of this bacteria can survive and replicate in animals, soil and aquatic environments [6,10]. Both show worldwide distribution but are particularly prevalent in subtropical climates.
Yersinia infection has been described in many species of wild mammals and birds [2,5,7,8,10,11], as well as in domestic animals and man [3,4]. Spread of infection occurs via oral uptake of contaminated food or water [4,6]. Domestic pigs are considered to be the primary source of Y.enterocolitica . The most important reservoirs of Y. pseudotuberculosis are rodents, birds and lagomorphs; indeed there are numerous reports of death amongst European hares being caused by this bacteria [2,8,9,11], particularly in cold, wet periods [2,8]. It is possible that yersiniosis plays an important role in the regulation of hare population sizes in Europe [2,8].
After ingestion the bacteria establishes infection in the intestinal wall and spreads from here to the lymph nodes that drain the gut, eventually entering the blood stream .
Clinical signs of infection with either species of the bacteria are similar and are typically due to enteritis (infection of the intestines) i.e. diarrhoea, weight-loss and weakness . In severe cases the bacteria or toxins can enter the blood causing septicaemia (blood poisoning) [4,6]. Infection can be fatal.
It is possible to diagnose Yersiniosis by post-mortem exam based on the combination of characteristic lesions and bacterial identification by culture (which requires a special technique known as cold-enrichment culture) [4,5]; or molecular testing of the tissues (PCR) . It is important to note that intestinal contents may contain non-pathogenic strains of Yersinia whose present is not associated with disease.
Infection with either Y. pseudotuberculosis or Y. enterocolitica have been described in people [3,6]. Although infection may be derived from the environment, it is nonetheless sensible to acknowledge the possibility of infection being spread via contact with infected wild animals and accordingly to take extra precautions when handling susceptible animal species, particularly hares .
Another very important member of the Yersinia family of bacteria is Yersinia pestis, the cause of human plague, responsible for the black death and with a record of decimating populations throughout history. Yersinia pestis is closely related to and possibly even derived from Y. pseudotuberculosis  which may explain why, during the last European plague pandemic, the spread of the disease was limited .
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