Diversity of piroplasms detected in blood-fed and questing ticks from several states in the United States

Barbara C Shock, Abelardo Moncayo, Sara Cohen, Elizabeth A Mitchell, Phillip C Williamson, Gaylord Lopez, Laurel E Garrison, Michael J Yabsley
Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases 2014, 5 (4): 373-80
Piroplasms in the genera Babesia, Theileria, and Cytauxzoon are tick-borne parasites that may be animal and human pathogens. Most piroplasms with known life cycles are transmitted by ixodid ticks; however, for many species, the vector is unknown. This study was conducted to determine the prevalence and diversity of piroplasms in ticks from several US states. Piroplasm-specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays were used to test 1631 ticks from Georgia (n=486), Kentucky (n=103), Pennsylvania (n=1), Tennessee (n=626), and Texas (n=414). Ticks were either questing (n=42) or collected from animals (n=627) or humans (n=962). The 2 primary species tested were Dermacentor variabilis (n=702) and Amblyomma americanum (n=743), but Amblyomma cajennense (n=99), Amblyomma maculatum (n=16), Ixodes scapularis (n=4), I. woodi (n=1), and unidentified Amblyomma spp. nymphs (n=64) were also tested. A low prevalence of piroplasms was detected with 37 (2.3%), 35 (2.1%), and 9 (0.6%) ticks positive for Theileria spp., Babesia spp., or Cytauxzoon felis, respectively. Based on sequence analysis, at least 6 Babesia spp. were detected and 15 of the 35 (41%) Babesia-positive ticks were A. americanum, 19 (56%) were D. variabilis, and one (3%) was an I. scapularis. Nine Babesia-positive ticks were removed from humans from Kentucky (n=1), Georgia (n=2), Texas (n=5), and Pennsylvania (n=1). Three Babesia-positive ticks were questing A. americanum which represents the first report of Babesia-infected questing Amblyomma in the US. Theileria infections were only detected in A. americanum, and all sequences were similar to white-tailed deer associated Theileria spp. C. felis was only detected in D. variabilis. These data suggest that A. americanum may be a vector of Babesia spp., although experimental studies are needed to confirm vector competence. Finally, these data demonstrate a high diversity of piroplasms in both questing and partially fed ticks in the US; although, host-blood meals can be present in non-questing ticks.

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