JOURNAL ARTICLE

Natural history of Ehrlichia chaffeensis (Rickettsiales: Ehrlichieae) in the piedmont physiographic province of Georgia

J M Lockhart, W R Davidson, D E Stallknecht, J E Dawson, S E Little
Journal of Parasitology 1997, 83 (5): 887-94
9379294
The roles of wild mammals and ticks in the epidemiology of Ehrlichia chaffeensis at a suspected endemic site were investigated using serologic testing, culture, and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) supported by restriction endonuclease analysis and DNA sequencing. Antibodies reactive to E. chaffeensis (> or = 1:64) were detected in 92% of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), 21% of raccoons (Procyon lotor), and 8% of opossums (Didelphis virginianus), but not in 8 other species of mammals. Of 7 species of ticks found by host and environmental sampling, Amblyomma americanum was the dominant species, accounting for greater than 99% of all ticks collected. Deer, raccoons, and opossums were the only species parasitized by all life stages of A. americanum, and A. americanum was the only tick parasitizing deer. A nested PCR protocol incorporating E. chaffeensis-specific primers detected E. chaffeensis DNA in blood, lymph nodes, or spleen from 54% of deer examined. The nested PCR detected E. chaffeensis DNA in 6 of 50 (12%) individual adult A. americanum collected from the environment, in 14 of 79 (18%) pools representing 402 adult A. americanum collected from the environment, and in 7 of 25 (28%) pools of mixed stages of A. americanum collected from deer. Although no Ehrlichia spp. were isolated in culture, sequencing of representative amplicons from deer and ticks confirmed PCR products as E. chaffeensis. These data provide strong evidence that white-tailed deer and lone star ticks are the primary reservoir and vector of E. chaffeensis, respectively. The same PCR protocol, incorporating primers specific for an Ehrlichia-like organism of white-tailed deer, detected this organism in blood, lymph nodes, or spleen from 96% of these deer. The Ehrlichia-like organism of deer was detected by PCR from 0 of 50 individual ticks, 7 of 79 (9%) pools, and 1 of 25 (4%) pools of A. americanum collected from deer. Sequencing of representative amplicons from deer and ticks confirmed PCR products as Ehrlichia-like organism of deer. These data suggest that the Ehrlichia-like organism of deer is present in both the deer and lone star ticks populations at this location.

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