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First report of Rickettsia identical to R. slovaca in colony-originated D. variabilis in the US: detection, laboratory animal model and vector competence of ticks
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  • Alternative Title:
    Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis
  • Description:
    Ticks of the genus Dermacentor are known vectors of rickettsial pathogens in both the Old World and New World. In North America, Dermacentor variabilis and D. andersoni are vectors of Rickettsia rickettsii, while in Europe, D. marginatus and D. reticulatus transmit R. slovaca and R. raoultii, respectively. Neither the presence of R. slovaca in the Americas nor the ability of American tick species to maintain this pathogen have been reported. Here we describe detection of Rickettsia genetically identical to R. slovaca in D. variabilis, its molecular characterization, assessment of pathogenicity to guinea pigs, and vector competence of D. variabilis ticks. Ticks from a laboratory colony of D. variabilis, established from wild ticks and maintained on naïve NZW rabbits, tested positive for spotted fever group (SFG) Rickettsia by PCR. Analysis of 17 kDa gltA, rpoB, ompA, ompB, and sca4 genes revealed 100% identity to R. slovaca sequences available in the GenBank. New Zealand white rabbits fed upon by infected ticks seroconverted to SFG Rickettsia. Guinea pigs inoculated with the Rickettsia culture or infested by the infected ticks developed antibodies to SFG Rickettsia. The intensity of clinical signs and immune response were dependent on dose and route of infection. The identified Rickettsia was detected in all life stages of D. variabilis ticks, confirming transstadial and transovarial transmission. Thirty-six percent of uninfected larvae co-fed with infected nymphs on guinea pigs were PCR-positive and able to pass rickettsia to at least 11.7% of molted nymphs. To our knowledge, this is a first report of identification of a European pathogen R. slovaca or a highly similar agent in the American dog tick, D. variabilis. Considering pathogenicity of R. slovaca in humans, further laboratory and field studies are warranted to assess the relevance of the above findings to the public health and epidemiology of SFG rickettsioses in the United States.
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