Rickettsia amblyommii infecting Amblyomma americanum larvae

Ellen Y Stromdahl, Mary A Vince, Peggy M Billingsley, Nicole A Dobbs, Phillip C Williamson
Vector Borne and Zoonotic Diseases 2008, 8 (1): 15-24
Polymerase chain reaction analysis of Amblyomma americanum adults, nymphs, and larvae from Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD (APG), revealed a very high prevalence of a spotted fever group (SFG) rickettsia. Restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) and sequence analysis identified "Rickettsia amblyommii." This organism is not yet described or well studied, and its pathogenicity is unknown; however, investigations of the organism are warranted because of its high prevalence in A. americanum. This tick is extremely abundant at military training facilities in the south, central, and Mid-Atlantic United States, and many soldiers experience multiple concurrent tick bites. Bites by R. amblyommii-infected A. americanum may account for rates of SFG rickettsia seropositivity that are higher than reported rates of Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) cases from the same location. Seroconversion to SFG rickettsia following bites of A. americanum may suggest that R. amblyommii is infectious in humans. Subclinical infection in the numerous A. americanum tick bite victims could contaminate donated blood and compromise immunodeficient recipients. Detection of R. amblyommii in questing A. americanum larvae suggests transovarial transmission. The absence of R. rickettsii, the agent of RMSF, in A. americanum may be due to transovarial interference by R. amblyommii. The likelihood of pathogen transmission by larvae is magnified by their habit of mass attack. The very small size of the larvae is also a risk factor for pathogen transmission. High R. amblyommii prevalence in populations of A. americanum presage co-infection with other A. americanum-borne pathogens. A. americanum nymphs and adults from APG were found to be co-infected with R. amblyommii and Borrelia lonestari, Ehrlichia chaffeensis and Ehrlichia ewingii, respectively, and larval pools were infected with both R. amblyommii and B. lonestari. Co-infections can compound effects and complicate diagnosis of tick-borne disease.

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