Ticks and spotted fever group rickettsiae of southeastern Virginia

Robyn M Nadolny, Chelsea L Wright, Daniel E Sonenshine, Wayne L Hynes, Holly D Gaff
Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases 2014, 5 (1): 53-7
The incidence of tick-borne rickettsial disease in the southeastern United States has been rising steadily through the past decade, and the range expansions of tick species and tick-borne infectious agents, new and old, has resulted in an unprecedented mix of vectors and pathogens. The results of an ongoing 4-year surveillance project describe the relative abundance of questing tick populations in southeastern Virginia. Since 2009, more than 66,000 questing ticks of 7 species have been collected from vegetation in a variety of habitats, with Amblyomma americanum constituting over 95% of ticks collected. Other species represented included Ixodes scapularis, Dermacentor variabilis, Amblyomma maculatum, Ixodes affinis, Haemaphysalis leporispalustris, and Ixodes brunneus. We found that 26.9-54.9% of A. americanum ticks tested were positive for Rickettsia amblyommii, a non-pathogenic symbiont of this tick species. We also found no evidence of R. rickettsii in D. variabilis ticks, although they did show low infection rates of R. montanensis (1.5-2.0%). Rickettsia parkeri and Candidatus R. andeanae were found in 41.8-55.7% and 0-1.5% A. maculatum ticks, respectively. The rate of R. parkeri in A. maculatum ticks is among the highest in the literature and has increased in the 2 years since R. parkeri and A. maculatum were first reported in southeastern Virginia. We conclude that tick populations in southeastern Virginia have recently undergone dramatic changes in species and abundance and that these populations support a variety of rickettsial agents with the potential for increased risk to human health.

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