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J Clin Microbiol. 1996 August; 34(8): 1952–1956.
PMCID: PMC229161

Experimental transmission of Bartonella henselae by the cat flea.


Bartonella henselae is an emerging bacterial pathogen, causing cat scratch disease and bacillary angiomatosis. Cats bacteremic with B. henselae constitute a large reservoir from which humans become infected. Prevention of human infection depends on elucidation of the natural history and means of feline infection. We studied 47 cattery cats in a private home for 12 months to determine the longitudinal prevalence of B. henselae bacteremia, the prevalence of B. henselae in the fleas infesting these cats, and whether B. henselae is transmitted experimentally to cats via fleas. Vector-mediated transmission of B.henselae isolates was evaluated by removing fleas from the naturally bacteremic, flea-infested cattery cats and transferring these fleas to specific-pathogen-free (SPF) kittens housed in a controlled, arthropod-free University Animal Facility. B. henselae bacteremia was detected in 89% of the 47 naturally infected cattery cats. A total of 132 fleas were removed from cats whose blood was simultaneously cultured during different seasons and were tested individually for the presence of B. henselae DNA by PCR. B. henselae DNA was detected in 34% of 132 fleas, with seasonal variation, but without an association between the presence or the level of bacteremia in the corresponding cat. Cat fleas removed from bacteremic cattery cats transmitted B. henselae to five SPF kittens in two separate experiments; however, control SPF kittens housed with highly bacteremic kittens in the absence of fleas did not become infected. These data demonstrate that the cat flea readily transmits B. henselae to cats. Control of feline infestation with this arthropod vector may provide an important strategy for the prevention of infection of both humans and cats.

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