Experimental infection of opossums Didelphis aurita by Rickettsia rickettsii and evaluation of the transmission of the infection to ticks Amblyomma cajennense

Maurício C Horta, Jonas Moraes-Filho, Renata A Casagrande, Tais B Saito, Simone C Rosa, Maria Ogrzewalska, Eliana R Matushima, Marcelo B Labruna
Vector Borne and Zoonotic Diseases 2009, 9 (1): 109-18
The present study evaluated the infection of opossums (Didelphis aurita) by Rickettsia rickettsii and their role as amplifier hosts for horizontal transmission of R. rickettsii to Amblyomma cajennense ticks. Three groups of opossums were evaluated: on day 0, group 1 (G1) was inoculated intraperitoneally with R. rickettsii; group 2 (G2) was infested by R. rickettsii-infected ticks; and group 3 (G3) was the uninfected control group. Opossum rectal temperature was measured daily. Blood samples were collected every 2 to 4 days during 30 days, and used to (1) inoculate guinea pigs intraperitoneally; (2) extract DNA followed by real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) targeting the rickettsial gene gltA; (3) study hematology; (4) detect R. rickettsii-reactive antibodies by indirect immunofluorescence assay (IFA). Blood was also collected every 10 days from days 30 to 180, to be tested by serology. Opossums were infested by uninfected A. cajennense larvae and nymphs from days 3 to 15. Engorged ticks were collected and allowed to molt in an incubator. Thereafter, the subsequent flat ticks were allowed to feed on uninfected rabbits, which were tested for seroconversion by IFA. Samples of flat ticks were also tested by real-time PCR. All G1 and G2 opossums became infected by R. rickettsii, as demonstrated by realtime PCR or/and guinea pig inoculation, but they showed no clinical abnormality. Rickettsemia was first detected at days 2 to 8, lasting intermittently till days 1 to 30. Approximately 18% and 5% of the flat ticks previously fed on G1 and G2 opossums, respectively, became infected by R. rickettsii, but only the rabbits infested with G1-derived ticks seroconverted. The study demonstrated that R. rickettsii was capable of infecting opossums without causing illness and developing rickettsemia capable of causing infection in guinea pigs and ticks, although the infection rate in ticks was low.


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