Effects of temperature on the transmission of Yersinia Pestis by the flea, Xenopsylla Cheopis, in the late phase period
Published Date:Sep 29 2011
Source:Parasit Vectors. 2011; 4:191.
Traditionally, efficient flea-borne transmission of Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of plague, was thought to be dependent on a process referred to as blockage in which biofilm-mediated growth of the bacteria physically blocks the flea gut, leading to the regurgitation of contaminated blood into the host. This process was previously shown to be temperature-regulated, with blockage failing at temperatures approaching 30°C; however, the abilities of fleas to transmit infections at different temperatures had not been adequately assessed. We infected colony-reared fleas of Xenopsylla cheopis with a wild type strain of Y. pestis and maintained them at 10, 23, 27, or 30°C. Naïve mice were exposed to groups of infected fleas beginning on day 7 post-infection (p.i.), and every 3-4 days thereafter until day 14 p.i. for fleas held at 10°C, or 28 days p.i. for fleas held at 23-30°C. Transmission was confirmed using Y. pestis-specific antigen or antibody detection assays on mouse tissues.
Although no statistically significant differences in per flea transmission efficiencies were detected between 23 and 30°C, efficiencies were highest for fleas maintained at 23°C and they began to decline at 27 and 30°C by day 21 p.i. These declines coincided with declining median bacterial loads in fleas at 27 and 30°C. Survival and feeding rates of fleas also varied by temperature to suggest fleas at 27 and 30°C would be less likely to sustain transmission than fleas maintained at 23°C. Fleas held at 10°C transmitted Y. pestis infections, although flea survival was significantly reduced compared to that of uninfected fleas at this temperature. Median bacterial loads were significantly higher at 10°C than at the other temperatures.
Our results suggest that temperature does not significantly effect the per flea efficiency of Y. pestis transmission by X. cheopis, but that temperature is likely to influence the dynamics of Y. pestis flea-borne transmission, perhaps by affecting persistence of the bacteria in the flea gut or by influencing flea survival. Whether Y. pestis biofilm production is important for transmission at different temperatures remains unresolved, although our results support the hypothesis that blockage is not necessary for efficient transmission.
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