Computer simulation of Rocky Mountain spotted fever transmission by the American dog tick (Acari: Ixodidae)

L M Cooksey, D G Haile, G A Mount
Journal of Medical Entomology 1990, 27 (4): 671-80
A computer model was developed for simulation of the transmission of Rickettsia rickettsii, the causative agent of Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), by the American dog tick, Dermacentor variabilis (Say). The model of RMSF was combined with a model for population dynamics of the American dog tick and included simulation of infection and transmission of rickettsiae between ticks and host mammals and transmission of RMSF to humans. The model simulated the effects of biotic and environmental variables such as weather, host density, habitat, transovarial transmission, fecundity of infected ticks, and infectivity level of ticks and mammals. Some parameters in the model were fitted by iterative simulations to produce realistic rates of R. rickettsii infection in adult ticks and small and medium-sized mammal hosts. Parameters also were fitted to yield the historical average number of RMSF cases for Virginia. Comparisons of the simulated and actual number of cases for nine other states indicated a reasonable level of validity for the model. A theoretical tick density threshold of 252 unfed adult ticks/ha for transmission of RMSF was determined from a relationship between rate of transmission to humans and density of ticks. The transmission threshold can be used for additional modeling efforts to study the effects of management technologies on tick densities and RMSF human cases. The model can serve as a framework for modeling other tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease, babesiosis, and heartwater.

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