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1.  Multispacer typing of Rickettsia isolates from humans and ticks in Tunisia revealing new genotypes 
Parasites & Vectors  2013;6:367.
Rickettsioses are important remerging vector born infections. In Tunisia, many species have been described in humans and vectors. Genotyping is important for tracking pathogen movement between hosts and vectors. In this study, we characterized Rickettsia species detected in patients and vectors using multispacer typing (MST), proposed by Founier et al. and based on three intergenic spacers (dksA-xerC, rmpE- tRNAfMet, mppA-pruC) sequencing.
Our study included 25 patients hospitalized during 2009. Ticks and fleas were collected in the vicinity of confirmed cases. Serology was performed on serum samples by microimmunofluorescence using Rickettsia conorii and Rickettsia typhi antigens. To detect and identify Rickettsia species, PCR targeting ompA, ompB and gltA genes followed by sequencing was performed on 18 obtained skin biopsies and on all collected vectors. Rickettsia positive samples were further characterized using primers targeting three intergenic spacers (dksA-xerC, rmpE- tRNAfMet and mppA-purC).
A rickettsial infection was confirmed in 15 cases (60%). Serology was positive in 13 cases (52%). PCR detected Rickettsia DNA in four biopsies (16%) allowing the identification of R. conorii subsp israelensis in three cases and R. conorii subsp conorii in one case. Among 380 collected ticks, nine presented positive PCR (2.4%) allowing the identification of six R. conorii subsp israelensis, two R. massiliae and one R. conorii subsp conorii. Among 322 collected fleas, only one was positive for R. felis. R. conorii subsp israelensis strains detected in humans and vectors clustered together and showed a new MST genotype. Similarly, R. conorii subsp conorii strains detected in a skin biopsy and a tick were genetically related and presented a new MST genotype.
New Rickettsia spotted fever strain genotypes were found in Tunisia. Isolates detected in humans and vectors were genetically homogenous despite location differences in their original isolation suggesting epidemiologic circulation of these strains.
PMCID: PMC3883474  PMID: 24380581
Rickettsia; Multispacer typing; Intergenic spacers; Vectors; Spotted fever rickettsioses; Tunisia
2.  Proposal to create subspecies of Rickettsia conorii based on multi-locus sequence typing and an emended description of Rickettsia conorii 
BMC Microbiology  2005;5:11.
Rickettsiae closely related to the Malish strain, the reference Rickettsia conorii strain, include Indian tick typhus rickettsia (ITTR), Israeli spotted fever rickettsia (ISFR), and Astrakhan fever rickettsia (AFR). Although closely related genotypically, they are distinct serotypically. Using multilocus sequence typing (MLST), we have recently found that distinct serotypes may not always represent distinct species within the Rickettsia genus. We investigated the possibility of classifying rickettsiae closely related to R. conorii as R. conorii subspecies as proposed by the ad hoc committee on reconciliation of approaches to bacterial systematics. For this, we first estimated their genotypic variability by using MLST including the sequencing of 5 genes, of 31 rickettsial isolates closely related to R. conorii strain Malish, 1 ITTR isolate, 2 isolates and 3 tick amplicons of AFR, and 2 ISFR isolates. Then, we selected a representative of each MLST genotype and used multi-spacer typing (MST) and mouse serotyping to estimate their degree of taxonomic relatedness.
Among the 39 isolates or tick amplicons studied, four MLST genotypes were identified: i) the Malish type; ii) the ITTR type; iii) the AFR type; and iv) the ISFR type. Among these four MLST genotypes, the pairwise similarity in nucleotide sequence varied from 99.8 to 100%, 99.4 to 100%, 98.2 to 99.8%, 98.4 to 99.8%, and 99.2 to 99.9% for 16S rDNA, gltA, ompA, ompB, and sca4 genes, respectively. Representatives of the 4 MLST types were also classified within four types using MST genotyping as well as mouse serotyping.
Although homogeneous genotypically, strains within the R. conorii species show MST genotypic, serotypic, and epidemio-clinical dissimilarities. We, therefore, propose to modify the nomenclature of the R. conorii species through the creation of subspecies. We propose the names R. conorii subsp. conorii subsp. nov. (type strain = Malish, ATCC VR-613), R. conorii subspecies indica subsp. nov. (type strain = ATCC VR-597), R. conorii subspecies caspia subsp. nov. (type strain = A-167), and R. conorii subspecies israelensis subsp. nov. (type strain = ISTT CDC1). The description of R. conorii is emended to accomodate the four subspecies.
PMCID: PMC1079849  PMID: 15766388
3.  Presence of Rickettsia conorii subsp. israelensis, the Causative Agent of Israeli Spotted Fever, in Sicily, Italy, Ascertained in a Retrospective Study 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2005;43(12):6027-6031.
A retrospective analysis by molecular-sequence-based techniques was performed to correctly identify the etiological agent of 24 Mediterranean spotted fever cases occurring in Western Sicily, Italy, from 1987 to 2001. Restriction analysis of a 632-bp PCR-amplified portion of the ompA gene allowed presumptive identification of five clinical isolates as belonging to Rickettsia conorii subsp. israelensis, the etiological agent of Israeli spotted fever (ISF). The remaining 19 rickettsial isolates were Rickettsia conorii subsp. conorii, the only pathogenic rickettsia of the spotted fever group reported in Italy until the present. Sequence analysis of the ompA gene confirmed the identification of all the R. conorii subsp. israelensis isolates and demonstrated that rickettsiosis caused by R. conorii subsp. israelensis can be traced back to 1991 in Sicily. The recorded clinical data of the five ISF patients support the idea that these strains could correlate to more-severe forms of human disease. Three of five patients experienced severe disease, and one of them died.
PMCID: PMC1317185  PMID: 16333093
4.  Genome Sequence of Rickettsia conorii subsp. israelensis, the Agent of Israeli Spotted Fever 
Journal of Bacteriology  2012;194(18):5130-5131.
Rickettsia conorii subsp. israelensis is the agent of Israeli spotted fever. The present study reports the draft genome of Rickettsia conorii subsp. israelensis strain ISTT CDC1, isolated from a Rhipicephalus sanguineus tick collected in Israel.
PMCID: PMC3430316  PMID: 22933760
5.  Tick-Borne Rickettsioses, Neglected Emerging Diseases in Rural Senegal 
Rickettsioses are one of the most important causes of systemic febrile illness among travelers from developed countries, but little is known about their incidence in indigenous populations, especially in West Africa.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Overall seroprevalence evaluated by immunofluorescence using six rickettsial antigens (spotted fever and typhus group) in rural populations of two villages of the Sine-Saloum region of Senegal was found to be 21.4% and 51% for spotted fever group rickettsiae for Dielmo and Ndiop villages, respectively. We investigated the role of tick-borne rickettsiae as the cause of acute non-malarial febrile diseases in the same villages. The incidence of rickettsial DNA in 204 blood samples from 134 (62M and 72F) febrile patients negative for malaria was studied. DNA extracted from whole blood was tested by two qPCR systems. Rickettsial DNA was found in nine patients, eight with Rickettsia felis (separately reported). For the first time in West Africa, Rickettsia conorii was diagnosed in one patient. We also tested 2,767 Ixodid ticks collected in two regions of Senegal (Niakhar and Sine-Saloum) from domestic animals (cows, sheep, goats, donkeys and horses) by qPCR and identified five different pathogenic rickettsiae. We found the following: Rickettsia aeschlimannii in Hyalomma marginatum rufipes (51.3% and 44.8% in Niakhar and Sine-Saloum region, respectively), in Hyalomma truncatum (6% and 6.8%) and in Rhipicephalus evertsi evertsi (0.5%, only in Niakhar); R. c. conorii in Rh. e. evertsi (0.4%, only in Sine-Saloum); Rickettsia massiliae in Rhipicephalus guilhoni (22.4%, only in Niakhar); Rickettsia sibirica mongolitimonae in Hyalomma truncatum (13.5%, only in Sine-Saloum); and Rickettsia africae in Rhipicephalus evertsi evertsi (0.7% and 0.4% in Niakhar and Sine-Saloum region, respectively) as well as in Rhipicephalus annulatus (20%, only in Sine-Saloum). We isolated two rickettsial strains from H. truncatum: R. s. mongolitimonae and R. aeschlimannii.
We believe that together with our previous data on the high prevalence of R. africae in Amblyomma ticks and R. felis infection in patients, the presented results on the distribution of pathogenic rickettsiae in ticks and the first R. conorii case in West Africa show that the rural population of Senegal is at risk for other tick-borne rickettsioses, which are significant causes of febrile disease in this area.
Author Summary
Spotted fever rickettsioses are endemic diseases known since the beginning of the 21st century. They may be severe, like Rocky Mountain Spotted fever in the Americas, and are always transmitted by the tick bite. In Africa, little is known about the prevalence of these diseases; most available data is from the travelers who felt ill after coming back to Europe and USA. We have studied the distribution of bacteria causing different spotted fevers (rickettsiae) in rural Senegal, as well as the role of these bacteria in human pathology among indigenous population. We have found that up to half of tested villagers have serological evidence of contact with rickettsiae and in some cases these bacteria may be found in the blood of feverish patients. From the other side, almost all species of ticks that may be collected in the villages on domestic animals also harbor the pathogenic bacteria. In total, six different species of rickettsiae were identified in ticks. We believe that our data cast light on the problem of unexplained fevers in West Africa.
PMCID: PMC2939048  PMID: 20856858
6.  Detection of Rickettsia in Rhipicephalus sanguineus Ticks and Ctenocephalides felis Fleas from Southeastern Tunisia by Reverse Line Blot Assay 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2014;52(1):268-274.
Ticks (n = 663) and fleas (n = 470) collected from domestic animals from southeastern Tunisia were screened for Rickettsia infection using reverse line blot assay. Evidence of spotted fever group Rickettsia was obtained. We detected Rickettsia felis in fleas, Rickettsia massiliae Bar 29 and the Rickettsia conorii Israeli spotted fever strain in ticks, and Rickettsia conorii subsp. conorii and Rickettsia spp. in both arthropods. The sensitivity of the adopted technique allowed the identification of a new association between fleas and R. conorii subsp. conorii species. The presence of these vector-borne Rickettsia infections should be considered when diagnosing this disease in humans in Tunisia.
PMCID: PMC3911462  PMID: 24226919
7.  Molecular Detection and Characterization of Tick-borne Pathogens in Dogs and Ticks from Nigeria 
Only limited information is currently available on the prevalence of vector borne and zoonotic pathogens in dogs and ticks in Nigeria. The aim of this study was to use molecular techniques to detect and characterize vector borne pathogens in dogs and ticks from Nigeria.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Blood samples and ticks (Rhipicephalus sanguineus, Rhipicephalus turanicus and Heamaphysalis leachi) collected from 181 dogs from Nigeria were molecularly screened for human and animal vector-borne pathogens by PCR and sequencing. DNA of Hepatozoon canis (41.4%), Ehrlichia canis (12.7%), Rickettsia spp. (8.8%), Babesia rossi (6.6%), Anaplasma platys (6.6%), Babesia vogeli (0.6%) and Theileria sp. (0.6%) was detected in the blood samples. DNA of E. canis (23.7%), H. canis (21.1%), Rickettsia spp. (10.5%), Candidatus Neoehrlichia mikurensis (5.3%) and A. platys (1.9%) was detected in 258 ticks collected from 42 of the 181 dogs. Co- infections with two pathogens were present in 37% of the dogs examined and one dog was co-infected with 3 pathogens. DNA of Rickettsia conorii israelensis was detected in one dog and Rhipicephalus sanguineus tick. DNA of another human pathogen, Candidatus N. mikurensis was detected in Rhipicephalus sanguineus and Heamaphysalis leachi ticks, and is the first description of Candidatus N. mikurensis in Africa. The Theileria sp. DNA detected in a local dog in this study had 98% sequence identity to Theileria ovis from sheep.
The results of this study indicate that human and animal pathogens are abundant in dogs and their ticks in Nigeria and portray the potential high risk of human exposure to infection with these agents.
Author Summary
In Nigeria, dogs are not only kept as pets, but are also used for hunting as well as a source of animal protein among some ethnic groups. Ticks are known to infest dogs and serve as vectors for some pathogens of zoonotic and veterinary importance. There is limited information on the prevalence and distribution of vector borne pathogens in dogs and ticks in Nigeria. The aim of the study was to detect and characterize vector borne pathogens in dogs and ticks from Nigeria using molecular methods. The results of this study showed a high estimate of vector borne pathogens in Nigerian dogs (77.3%) and ticks (63.3%). DNA of Candidatus N. mikurensis, an emerging pathogen of humans was detected in Rhipicephalus sanguineus and Heamaphysalis leachi ticks. Another human pathogen, Rickettsia conorii israelensis the causative agent of Mediterranean spotted fever was detected in Rhipicephalus sanguineus ticks. This is the first description of Candidatus N. mikurensis in Africa and Rickettsia conorii israelensis in Nigeria. These results indicate that the use of molecular techniques for the diagnosis of emerging infections in developing countries is of utmost importance in assisting physicians and veterinarians in making accurate diagnoses and providing the appropriate treatment for their patients.
PMCID: PMC3591325  PMID: 23505591
8.  RC1339/APRc from Rickettsia conorii Is a Novel Aspartic Protease with Properties of Retropepsin-Like Enzymes 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(8):e1004324.
Members of the species Rickettsia are obligate intracellular, gram-negative, arthropod-borne pathogens of humans and other mammals. The life-threatening character of diseases caused by many Rickettsia species and the lack of reliable protective vaccine against rickettsioses strengthens the importance of identifying new protein factors for the potential development of innovative therapeutic tools. Herein, we report the identification and characterization of a novel membrane-embedded retropepsin-like homologue, highly conserved in 55 Rickettsia genomes. Using R. conorii gene homologue RC1339 as our working model, we demonstrate that, despite the low overall sequence similarity to retropepsins, the gene product of rc1339 APRc (for Aspartic Protease from Rickettsia conorii) is an active enzyme with features highly reminiscent of this family of aspartic proteases, such as autolytic activity impaired by mutation of the catalytic aspartate, accumulation in the dimeric form, optimal activity at pH 6, and inhibition by specific HIV-1 protease inhibitors. Moreover, specificity preferences determined by a high-throughput profiling approach confirmed common preferences between this novel rickettsial enzyme and other aspartic proteases, both retropepsins and pepsin-like. This is the first report on a retropepsin-like protease in gram-negative intracellular bacteria such as Rickettsia, contributing to the analysis of the evolutionary relationships between the two types of aspartic proteases. Additionally, we have also shown that APRc is transcribed and translated in R. conorii and R. rickettsii and is integrated into the outer membrane of both species. Finally, we demonstrated that APRc is sufficient to catalyze the in vitro processing of two conserved high molecular weight autotransporter adhesin/invasion proteins, Sca5/OmpB and Sca0/OmpA, thereby suggesting the participation of this enzyme in a relevant proteolytic pathway in rickettsial life-cycle. As a novel bona fide member of the retropepsin family of aspartic proteases, APRc emerges as an intriguing target for therapeutic intervention against fatal rickettsioses.
Author Summary
Several rickettsiae are pathogenic to humans by causing severe infections, including epidemic typhus (Rickettsia prowazekii), Rocky Mountain spotted fever (Rickettsia rickettsii), and Mediterranean spotted fever (Rickettsia conorii). Progress in correlating rickettsial genes and gene functions has been greatly hampered by the intrinsic difficulty in working with these obligate intracellular bacteria, despite the increasing insights into the mechanisms of pathogenesis of and the immune response to rickettsioses. Therefore, comparison of the multiple available genomes of Rickettsia is proving to be the most practical method to identify new factors that may play a role in pathogenicity. Here, we identified and characterized a novel retropepsin-like enzyme, APRc, that is expressed by at least two pathogenic rickettsial species, R. conorii and R. rickettsii. We have also established that APRc acts to process two major surface antigen/virulence determinants (OmpB/Sca5, OmpA/Sca0) in vitro and we suggest that this processing event is important for protein function. We demonstrate that APRc is specifically inhibited by drugs clinically used to treat HIV infections, providing the exciting possibility of targeting this enzyme for therapeutic intervention. With this work, we demonstrate that retropepsin-type aspartic proteases are indeed present in prokaryotes, suggesting that these enzymes may represent an ancestral form of these proteases.
PMCID: PMC4140852  PMID: 25144529
9.  Why Are There So Few Rickettsia conorii conorii-Infected Rhipicephalus sanguineus Ticks in the Wild? 
Rickettsia conorii conorii is the etiological agent of Mediterranean spotted fever, which is transmitted by the brown dog tick, Rhipicephalus sanguineus. The relationship between the Rickettsia and its tick vector are still poorly understood one century after the first description of this disease.
Methodology/Principal Findings
An entomological survey was organized in Algeria to collect ticks from the houses of patients with spotted fever signs. Colonies of R. conorii conorii-infected and non-infected ticks were established under laboratory conditions. Gimenez staining and electron microscopy on the ovaries of infected ticks indicated heavy rickettsial infection. The transovarial transmission of R. conorii conorii in naturally infected Rh. sanguineus ticks was 100% at eleven generations, and the filial infection rate was up to 99% according to molecular analyses. No differences in life cycle duration were observed between infected and non-infected ticks held at 25°C, but the average weight of engorged females and eggs was significantly lower in infected ticks than in non-infected ticks. The eggs, larvae and unfed nymphs of infected and non-infected ticks could not tolerate low (4°C) or high (37°C) temperatures or long starvation periods. R. conorii conorii-infected engorged nymphs that were exposed to a low or high temperature for one month experienced higher mortality when they were transferred to 25°C than non-infected ticks after similar exposure. High mortality was observed in infected adults that were maintained for one month at a low or high temperature after tick-feeding on rabbits.
These preliminary results suggest that infected quiescent ticks may not survive the winter and may help explain the low prevalence of infected Rh. sanguineus in nature. Further investigations on the influence of extrinsic factors on diapaused R. conorii-infected and non-infected ticks are required.
Author Summary
The bacterium Rickettsia conorii conorii is the etiological agent of Mediterranean spotted fever (MSF), which is a life-threatening infectious disease that is transmitted by Rhipicephalus sanguineus, the brown dog tick. Rh. sanguineus-R. conorii conorii relationships in the wild are still poorly understood one century after the discovery of the disease. In this study, we collected naturally infected ticks from the houses of people afflicted by MSF in Algeria. Colonies of both infected and non-infected ticks were maintained in our laboratory, and we studied the effect of temperature variations on the infected and non-infected ticks. We did not observe any major differences between the biological life cycle of the infected and non-infected ticks held at 25°C. However, a comparatively higher mortality relative to the control group was noticed when R. conorii conorii-infected engorged nymphs and adults were exposed to a low temperature (4°C) or high temperature (37°C) for one month and transferred to 25°C. R. conorii conorii-infected Rh. sanguineus may maintain and serve as reservoirs for the Rickettsia if they are not exposed to cold temperatures. New populations of ticks might become infected with Rickettsiae when feeding on a bacteremic animal reservoir.
PMCID: PMC3378603  PMID: 22724035
10.  Intraocular inflammation as the main manifestation of Rickettsia conorii infection 
To report the clinical features and management of seven cases of intraocular inflammation caused by Rickettsia infection and review published literature.
Rickettsia conorii or Rickettsia spp. infection was diagnosed based on the following criteria: (1) positive serology according to the European Guidelines, (2) titer normalization after specific treatment, and (3) complete resolution of ophthalmic disease and accompanying symptoms after antibiotic therapy.
Seven patients were referred for uveitis of unknown etiology. All came from regions where Mediterranean spotted fever is prevalent. One patient met the European guidelines criteria for Rickettsia spp. infection, while the other six cases met the criteria for R. conorii infection. The main symptoms were visual loss, floaters, eye redness, photophobia, and ocular pain. Predominant ophthalmic signs included vasculitis, choroiditis, vitritis, and macular edema. All patients required antibiotic treatment that resulted in the remission of the infection. Doxycycline was the first choice and the only antibiotic used to treat four patients. One patient needed ciprofloxacin as a second antibiotic after not responding to doxycycline. Two patients had doxycycline as a second antibiotic after not responding primarily to sulfonamides (which had been given after 2–3 days of doxycycline gastric intolerance); one of these patients needed ciprofloxacin as a third antibiotic.
Intraocular inflammation can occur as the main manifestation of Rickettsia conorii or Rickettsia spp. infection. It should be considered as a differential diagnosis for uveitis especially for patients living in countries where this infection is endemic in the world. Antibiotic treatment remains effective in the management of Rickettsia infection.
PMCID: PMC3198414  PMID: 22034560
intraocular inflammation; Mediterranean spotted fever; Rickettsia conorii; uveitis
11.  Diagnosis of Mediterranean spotted fever by cultivation of Rickettsia conorii from blood and skin samples using the centrifugation-shell vial technique and by detection of R. conorii in circulating endothelial cells: a 6-year follow-up. 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  1996;34(11):2722-2727.
Rickettsia conorii, an obligate intracellular bacterium that infects vascular endothelial cells, is the etiologic agent of Mediterranean spotted fever. We correlated the results of 205 R. conorii blood and skin cultures for 157 patients and the results of 48 detections of R. conorii in circulating endothelial cells (CEC) for 41 patients with relevant serological, clinical, and therapeutic data. R. conorii was cultured from 40% of patients and 29.8% of samples. R. conorii was detected in CEC in 50% of samples, representing 46.2% of patients. When these calculations were limited to the samples from untreated patients prior to their seroconversion to R. conorii, the sensitivity of culture was 59%, whereas it remained at 50% for detection in CEC. We also performed PCRs for the detection of R. conorii on eight shell vial supernatants from positive cultures and on 43 blood samples. Only nonfrozen supernatants from fresh cultures were positive. The methods described in this report are suitable for use in all laboratories. Our findings suggest that for samples to be suitable for culture they must be collected prior to the initiation of an antibiotic regimen, as early as possible in the course of the disease, and be inoculated onto shell vials with minimal delay, if R. conorii is to be successfully isolated. For patients who have been treated or who have a delayed diagnosis, detection of R. conorii in CEC remains helpful.
PMCID: PMC229393  PMID: 8897172
12.  Cutaneous Manifestations of Spotted Fever Rickettsial Infections in the Central Province of Sri Lanka: A Descriptive Study 
Characteristic skin lesions play a key role in clinical diagnosis of spotted fever group rickettsioses and this study describes these cutaneous manifestations along with basic histological features.
Methods and Findings
Study was conducted at Medical Unit, Teaching Hospital, Peradeniya, from November 2009 to October 2011, where a prospective data base of all rickettsial infections is maintained. Confirmation of diagnosis was made when IgM and IgG immunofluorescent antibody titre of 1/32 and >1/256 respectively. Of the 210 clinical cases, 134 had cutoff antibody titers for Rickettsia conorii antigen for confirmation. All these 134 patients had fever and skin rash, and of them 132(98%) had discrete maculopapular rash while eight (6%) had fern leaf type skin necrosis. Eight patients (6%) had healed tick bite marks. Average size of a skin lesion was 5 mm and rash involved 52% of body surface, distributed mainly in limbs and back of the chest. Generally the facial and leg skin was slightly oedematous particularly in old aged patients. Sixteen patients (12%) had pain and swelling of ankle joints where swelling extended to feet and leg. Biopsies from skin rash of six patients showed evidence of cutaneous vasculitis and of them, 247 bp region of the 17-kDa spotted fever group specific protein antigen was amplified using PCR.
A discrete maculopapular rash and occasional variations such as fern leaf shape necrosis and arthritis are found in spotted fever group. Histology found vasculitis as the pathology of these lesions.
Author Summary
Rickettsial organisms infect humans causing a wider array of clinical features and have re-emerged in Sri Lanka where three known disease entities; spotted fever group, murine typhus and scrub typhus do exist. These diseases cause clinical illnesses varying from mild febrile illness to severe multiple organ involvement even leading to fatal outcomes when there is a delay in diagnosis. Occasionally, clinical features could be nonspecific or atypical. Nevertheless, detection of skin lesions mostly facilitates the clinical diagnosis. Hence, clinicians need to be familiar with common as well as uncommon variations of skin manifestations. Being a treatable infection, early diagnosis is important and is heavily based on clinical features in settings where laboratory diagnostics are unavailable; at the same time delaying of treatment could lead to high morbidity and mortality. We identified some important variations of skin lesions associated with spotted fever group rickettsial infections which include fern leaf type skin necrosis mainly involving superficial skin with blackish discoloration which dries up with time and peels off. In addition, mild cutaneous oedema is seen over the face and ankles especially in older patients. Acute arthritis involving ankle joints were common manifestations which together with typical skin lesions facilitate the clinical diagnosis.
PMCID: PMC4169373  PMID: 25232837
13.  Warmer Weather Linked to Tick Attack and Emergence of Severe Rickettsioses 
The impact of climate on the vector behaviour of the worldwide dog tick Rhipicephalus sanguineus is a cause of concern. This tick is a vector for life-threatening organisms including Rickettsia rickettsii, the agent of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, R. conorii, the agent of Mediterranean spotted fever, and the ubiquitous emerging pathogen R. massiliae. A focus of spotted fever was investigated in France in May 2007. Blood and tissue samples from two patients were tested. An entomological survey was organised with the study of climatic conditions. An experimental model was designed to test the affinity of Rh. sanguineus for biting humans in variable temperature conditions. Serological and/or molecular tools confirmed that one patient was infected by R. conorii, whereas the other was infected by R. massiliae. Dense populations of Rh. sanguineus were found. They were infected with new genotypes of clonal populations of either R. conorii (24/133; 18%) or R. massiliae (13/133; 10%). April 2007 was the warmest since 1950, with summer-like temperatures. We show herein that the human affinity of Rh. sanguineus was increased in warmer temperatures. In addition to the originality of theses cases (ophthalmic involvements, the second reported case of R. massiliae infection), we provide evidence that this cluster of cases was related to a warming-mediated increase in the aggressiveness of Rh. sanguineus, leading to increased human attacks. From a global perspective, we predict that as a result of globalisation and warming, more pathogens transmitted by the brown dog tick may emerge in the future.
Author Summary
The impact of climate on the behaviour of the worldwide dog tick Rhipicephalus sanguineus is a cause of concern. This tick is a vector for life-threatening organisms including Rickettsia rickettsii, the agent of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, R. conorii, the agent of Mediterranean spotted fever, and the ubiquitous emerging pathogen R. massiliae. A focus of spotted fever was investigated in France in May 2007. One patient was found to be infected by R. conorii, whereas the other was infected by R. massiliae. Theses cases were original because of ophthalmic involvements, and the report of the second case of R. massiliae infection in the scientific literature. During an entomological survey, dense populations of Rh. sanguineus were found in the house where the patient had been bitten by ticks. Ticks were infected with either R. conorii or R. massiliae. Interestingly, April 2007 was the warmest since 1950, with summer-like temperatures. In this work, we show that the human affinity of Rh. sanguineus is increased in warmer temperatures, and provide evidence that this cluster of cases was related to a warming-mediated increase in the aggressiveness of Rh. sanguineus, leading to increased human attacks. From a global perspective, we predict that as a result of globalisation and warming, more pathogens transmitted by the brown dog tick may emerge in the future.
PMCID: PMC2581602  PMID: 19015724
14.  Human and tick spotted fever group Rickettsia isolates from Israel: a genotypic analysis. 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  1992;30(10):2653-2656.
The genomes of spotted fever group rickettsiae isolated in different geographical areas of Israel (two from ticks and four from humans, obtained over a span of 20 years) were studied by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and restriction endonuclease fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis. The human isolates were obtained from patients suffering from rickettsial disease of different degrees of severity. The PCR products obtained with five pairs of oligonucleotide primers (two primer sets derived from the 190-kDa polypeptide gene and three from the 120-kDa polypeptide gene) and cleaved with restriction endonucleases were used to study the Israeli isolates and reference Rickettsia conorii isolates. Subtle differences between the PCR-RFLP patterns of Israeli isolates and the two R. conorii reference strains (Moroccan and no. 7) were seen when the PCR products derived from the 190-kDa gene-derived primer sets were digested. All of the Israeli isolates were identical by RFLP analysis using all of the primer sets. This study showed that the Israeli spotted fever group isolates (from both ticks and humans) were genetically homogeneous by the criteria used in this study, despite the time and location differences in their original isolation, and different as a group from R. conorii.
PMCID: PMC270493  PMID: 1356998
15.  Rickettsial Infections and Fever, Vientiane, Laos 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2006;12(2):256-262.
Rickettsia spp. are an underrecognized cause of undifferentiated febrile illness.
Rickettsial diseases have not been described previously from Laos, but in a prospective study, acute rickettsial infection was identified as the cause of fever in 115 (27%) of 427 adults with negative blood cultures admitted to Mahosot Hospital in Vientiane, Laos. The organisms identified by serologic analysis were Orientia tsutsugamushi (14.8%), Rickettsia typhi (9.6%), and spotted fever group rickettsia (2.6% [8 R. helvetica, 1 R. felis, 1 R. conorii subsp. indica, and 1 Rickettsia "AT1"]). Patients with murine typhus had a lower frequency of peripheral lymphadenopathy than those with scrub typhus (3% vs. 46%, p<0.001). Rickettsioses are an underrecognized cause of undifferentiated febrile illnesses among adults in Laos. This finding has implications for the local empiric treatment of fever.
PMCID: PMC3373100  PMID: 16494751
Laos; typhus; fever; Orientia tsutsugamushi; Rickettsia typhi; Rickettsia helvetica; Rickettsia felis; Rickettsia conorii; Rickettsia AT1
16.  Evaluation of PCR-Based Assay for Diagnosis of Spotted Fever Group Rickettsiosis in Human Serum Samples 
A nested PCR assay was developed for the detection of spotted fever group (SFG) rickettsiae in serum samples. The assay was based on specific primers derived from the rickettsial outer membrane protein B gene (rompB) of Rickettsia conorii. An SFG rickettsia-specific signal is obtained from R. akari, R. japonica, R. sibirica, and R. conorii. Other bacterial species tested did not generate any signal, attesting to the specificity of the assay. As few as seven copies of the rompB gene of R. conorii could be detected in 200 μl of serum sample. The assay was evaluated with a panel of sera obtained from patients with acute-phase febrile disease tested by immunofluorescent antibody assay (IFA). The SFG rickettsia-specific DNA fragment was detected in 71 out of 100 sera, which were proven to have immunoglobulin M antibodies against SFG rickettsial antigen by IFA. The results were further confirmed by restriction fragment length polymorphism and sequencing analysis of the DNA fragments. The results indicated that this PCR assay is suitable for the diagnosis of spotted fever group rickettsiosis in Korea.
PMCID: PMC1151970  PMID: 15939751
17.  The Rickettsial OmpB β-Peptide of Rickettsia conorii Is Sufficient To Facilitate Factor H-Mediated Serum Resistance 
Infection and Immunity  2012;80(8):2735-2743.
Pathogenic species of the spotted fever group Rickettsia are subjected to repeated exposures to the host complement system through cyclic infections of mammalian and tick hosts. The serum complement machinery is a formidable obstacle for bacteria to overcome if they endeavor to endure this endozoonotic cycle. We have previously demonstrated that that the etiologic agent of Mediterranean spotted fever, Rickettsia conorii, is susceptible to complement-mediated killing only in the presence of specific monoclonal antibodies. We have also shown that in the absence of particular neutralizing antibody, R. conorii is resistant to the effects of serum complement. We therefore hypothesized that the interactions between fluid-phase complement regulators and conserved rickettsial outer membrane-associated proteins are critical to mediate serum resistance. We demonstrate here that R. conorii specifically interacts with the soluble host complement inhibitor, factor H. Depletion of factor H from normal human serum renders R. conorii more susceptible to C3 and membrane attack complex deposition and to complement-mediated killing. We identified the autotransporter protein rickettsial OmpB (rOmpB) as a factor H ligand and further demonstrate that the rOmpB β-peptide is sufficient to mediate resistance to the bactericidal properties of human serum. Taken together, these data reveal an additional function for the highly conserved rickettsial surface cell antigen, rOmpB, and suggest that the ability to evade complement-mediated clearance from the hematogenous circulation is a novel virulence attribute for this class of pathogens.
PMCID: PMC3434587  PMID: 22615250
18.  Host and microbial risk factors and pathophysiology of fatal Rickettsia conorii infection in Portuguese patients 
The Journal of infectious diseases  2008;198(4):576-585.
The pathophysiologic mechanisms of severity of Mediterranean spotted fever (MSF) and the host and microbial risk factors for a fatal outcome are incompletely determined.
In a prospective study of 140 patients with documented identification of the causative rickettsial strain admitted to 13 Portuguese hospitals during 1994−2006, univariate and multivariate analyses determined the risk factors for a fatal outcome.
Seventy one (51%) patients were infected with Rickettsia conorii Malish strain and 69 (49%) with Israeli spotted fever (ISF) strain. Patients were admitted to ICU (29%), hospitalized as routine inpatients (67%), or managed as outpatients (4%). Deaths occurred in 29 (21%) adults. Fatal outcome was significantly more likely for patients with ISF strain infection, and alcoholism was a risk factor. The pathophysiology of a fatal outcome involved significantly greater incidence of petechial rash, gastrointestinal symptoms, confusion/obtundation, dehydration, tachypnea, hepatomegaly, leukocytosis, coagulopathy, azotemia, hyperbilirubinemia, and elevated hepatic enzymes and creatine kinase. Some but not all these were observed more often in ISF strain-infected patients.
Although fatalities and similar clinical manifestations occurred with both strains, ISF strain was more virulent than Malish strain. Multivariate analysis revealed that acute renal failure and hyperbilirubinemia were most strongly associated with a fatal outcome.
PMCID: PMC2614375  PMID: 18582199
Rickettsia conorii; alcoholism; Israeli spotted fever strain; Malish strain; eschar
19.  Cross-reactive lymphocyte responses and protective immunity against other spotted fever group rickettsiae in mice immunized with Rickettsia conorii. 
Infection and Immunity  1986;51(3):832-837.
Lymphocyte proliferation in response to antigens on spotted fever group rickettsiae was used as a method to investigate the group-specific protective immunity to rechallenge characteristic of this group of rickettsiae at the T-cell receptor level. Spleen cells from Rickettsia conorii-immune C3H/HeJ mice proliferated in response to R. rickettsii Sheila Smith, R. sibirica 246, R. australis, and all tested strains of R. conorii (Casablanca, Moroccan, and Malish). Spleen cells from these mice, however, responded poorly or not at all to antigens prepared from the Kaplan or Hartford strain of R. akari. Proliferation of immune T cells maintained as in vitro cell lines showed a similar pattern of reactivity to these antigens; however, response to R. akari was consistently demonstrable. Spleen cells from C3H/HeJ mice immunized with R. akari responded to R. akari and R. conorii antigens as well as antigens from the other spotted fever group rickettsiae. Lymphocytes obtained from lymph nodes draining foot pads infected with R. conorii or R. akari demonstrated cross-reactivity similar to that found with immune spleen cells. If immunization was accomplished with R. conorii antigen emulsified in Freund complete adjuvant, the resulting lymph node cells were able to respond to R. akari antigens. These data suggest that infection with R. conorii induces a population of T lymphocytes that recognize an antigen(s) that also is found on other spotted fever rickettsiae and that may be responsible for cross-protective immunity. This antigen probably is not a major antigen on R. akari.
PMCID: PMC260973  PMID: 3949382
20.  Rickettsia conorii Transcriptional Response within Inoculation Eschar 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(11):e3681.
Rickettsia conorii, the causative agent of the Mediterranean spotted fever, is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected ticks Rhipicephalus sanguineus. The skin thus constitutes an important barrier for the entry and propagation of R. conorii. Given this, analysis of the survival strategies used by the bacterium within infected skin is critical for our understanding of rickettsiosis.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Here, we report the first genome-wide analysis of R. conorii gene expression from infected human skin biopsies. Our data showed that R. conorii exhibited a striking transcript signature that is remarkably conserved across patients, regardless of genotype. The expression profiles obtained using custom Agilent microarrays were validated by quantitative RT-PCR. Within eschars, the amount of detected R. conorii transcripts was of 55%, this value being of 74% for bacteria grown in Vero cells. In such infected host tissues, approximately 15% (n = 211) of the total predicted R. conorii ORFs appeared differentially expressed compared to bacteria grown in standard laboratory conditions. These genes are mostly down-regulated and encode proteins essential for bacterial replication. Some of the strategies displayed by rickettsiae to overcome the host defense barriers, thus avoiding killing, were also pointed out. The observed up-regulation of rickettsial genes associated with DNA repair is likely to correspond to a DNA-damaging agent enriched environment generated by the host cells to eradicate the pathogens. Survival of R. conorii within eschars also involves adaptation to osmotic stress, changes in cell surface proteins and up-regulation of some virulence factors. Interestingly, in contrast to down-regulated transcripts, we noticed that up-regulated ones rather exhibit a small nucleotide size, most of them being exclusive for the spotted fever group rickettsiae.
Because eschar is a site for rickettsial introduction, the pattern of rickettsial gene expression observed here may define how rickettsiae counteract the host defense.
PMCID: PMC2577010  PMID: 18997861
21.  Q Fever, Spotted Fever Group, and Typhus Group Rickettsioses Among Hospitalized Febrile Patients in Northern Tanzania 
In a prospective cohort study of febrile patients in northern Tanzania, Q fever and spotted fever group rickettsiosis were common but were not diagnosed by physicians in the absence of specific clinical features and local diagnostic methods.
Background. The importance of Q fever, spotted fever group rickettsiosis (SFGR), and typhus group rickettsiosis (TGR) as causes of febrile illness in sub-Saharan Africa is unknown; the putative role of Q fever as a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) coinfection is unclear.
Methods. We identified febrile inpatients in Moshi, Tanzania, from September 2007 through August 2008 and collected acute- and convalescent-phase serum samples. A ≥4-fold increase in immunoglobulin (Ig) G immunfluorescence assay (IFA) titer to Coxiella burnetii phase II antigen defined acute Q fever. A ≥4-fold increase in IgG IFA titer to Rickettsia conorii or Rickettsia typhi antigen defined SFGR and TGR, respectively.
Results. Among 870 patients, 483 (55.5%) were tested for acute Q fever, and 450 (51.7%) were tested for acute SFGR and TGR. Results suggested acute Q fever in 24 (5.0%) patients and SFGR and TGR in 36 (8.0%) and 2 (0.5%) patients, respectively. Acute Q fever was associated with hepato- or splenomegaly (odds ratio [OR], 3.1; P = .028), anemia (OR, 3.0; P = .009), leukopenia (OR, 3.9; P = .013), jaundice (OR, 7.1; P = .007), and onset during the dry season (OR, 2.7; P = .021). HIV infection was not associated with acute Q fever (OR, 1.7; P = .231). Acute SFGR was associated with leukopenia (OR, 4.1; P = .003) and with evidence of other zoonoses (OR, 2.2; P = .045).
Conclusions. Despite being common causes of febrile illness in northern Tanzania, Q fever and SFGR are not diagnosed or managed with targeted antimicrobials. C. burnetii does not appear to be an HIV-associated co-infection.
PMCID: PMC3148261  PMID: 21810740
22.  CD4+ CD25+ Foxp3− T-Regulatory Cells Produce both Gamma Interferon and Interleukin-10 during Acute Severe Murine Spotted Fever Rickettsiosis▿ †  
Infection and Immunity  2009;77(9):3838-3849.
Spotted fever group rickettsiae cause life-threatening human infections worldwide. Until now, the immune regulatory mechanisms involved in fatal rickettsial infection have been unknown. C3H/HeN mice infected with 3 × 105 PFU of Rickettsia conorii developed an acute progressive disease, and all mice succumbed to this infection. A sublethal infection induced protective immunity, and mice survived. Compared to splenic T cells from sublethally infected mice, splenic T cells from lethally infected mice produced significantly lower levels of interleukin-2 (IL-2) and gamma interferon (IFN-γ) and a higher level of IL-10, but not of IL-4 or transforming growth factor β, and there was markedly suppressed CD4+ T-cell proliferation in response to antigen-specific stimulation with R. conorii. Furthermore, lethal infection induced significant expansion of CD4+ CD25+ Foxp3− T cells in infected organs compared to the levels in naïve and sublethally infected mice. In a lethal infection, splenic CD4+ CD25+ Foxp3− T cells, which were CTLA-4high T-bet+ and secreted both IFN-γ and IL-10, suppressed the proliferation of and IL-2 production by splenic CD4+ CD25− Foxp3− T cells in vitro. Interestingly, depletion of CD25+ T cells in vivo did not change the disease progression, but it increased the bacterial load in the lung and liver, significantly reduced the number of IFN-γ-producing Th1 cells in the spleen, and increased the serum levels of IFN-γ. These results suggested that CD4+ CD25+ T cells generated in acute murine spotted fever rickettsiosis are Th1-cell-related adaptive T-regulatory cells, which substantially contribute to suppressing the systemic immune response, possibly by a mechanism involving IL-10 and/or cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen 4.
PMCID: PMC2738046  PMID: 19564386
23.  The role of cats in the eco-epidemiology of spotted fever group diseases 
Parasites & Vectors  2014;7(1):353.
Mediterranean Spotted Fever (MSF), whose etiological agent is R. conorii, is one of the oldest described vector-borne infectious diseases. Although it is endemic in the Mediterranean area, clinical cases have also been reported in other regions. R. massiliae-Bar29 is related to MSF cases. This strain is distributed worldwide. R. conorii and R. massiliae-Bar29 are transmitted by ticks. Dogs are considered the sentinel of R. conorii infection. Cats could also be involved in their transmission. Rickettsia felis, etiological agent of Flea-borne spotted fever, is mainly transmitted by the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis. Up to now, the role of cats in its transmission is not entirely elucidated. The aim of the study is to analyze the infection in cats by these microorganisms.
The study was undertaken in Northeastern Spain. Twenty municipalities of seven regions participated in the study. 212 cats (pets and stray cats) were analyzed. Variables surveyed were: date of collection, age, sex, municipality, source, living place, outdoor activities, health status, type of disease, contact with other animals, and ectoparasite infestation. Sera were evaluated by indirect immunofluorescence antibody assay (IFA). Molecular detection (real-time PCR and sequencing) and cultures were performed on blood samples.
There were 59 (27.8%) cats seroreactive to one or more microorganisms. Considering cross-reactions, the seroprevalences were 15.6%-19.5% (R. massiliae-Bar29), 1.9%-6.2% (R. conorii), and 5.2%-7.5% (R. felis). A weak association was observed between SFG seropositivity and tick infestation. Ticks found on seropositive cats were Rhipicephalus pusillus, R. sanguineus and R. turanicus. DNA of Rickettsia was detected in 23 cats. 21 of them could be sequenced. Sequences obtained were identical to those sequences of SFG rickettsiae similar to R. conorii and R. massiliae. No amplification of R. felis was obtained.
Cats can be infected by SFG rickettsiae and produce antibodies against them. Cats may play a role in the transmission cycle of R. conorii and R. massiliae-Bar29, although the role in the R. felis cycle needs further analysis.
PMCID: PMC4141105  PMID: 25084969
Spotted fever group Rickettsiae; Rickettsia conorii; Rickettsia massiliae-Bar29; Rickettsia felis; Cats; Molecular detection; Epidemiology
24.  Susceptibility of inbred mice to rickettsiae of the spotted fever group. 
Infection and Immunity  1984;43(1):143-148.
A mouse strain susceptible to lethal infection with Rickettsia conorii was required for testing vaccine efficacy and for studying the immunology and pathogenesis of infection. Among 20 strains of inbred mice inoculated intraperitoneally with the Malish strain of R. conorii, the C3H/HeJ mouse strain was the most susceptible, with a 50% lethal dose of approximately 10 PFU. Infection of all mouse strains resulted in a measurable antibody response; the highest titers correlated with the greatest degree of rickettsial replication as measured by plaque assay of infected spleen homogenates. Inoculation of C3H/HeJ mice with 5.0 log10 organisms of strain Malish by the subcutaneous route did not result in lethal infection. The Casablanca and Moroccan strains of R. conorii were not lethal for C3H/HeJ mice and, in addition, produced plaques in L-929 cells morphologically distinct from those produced by the Malish strain. The only other spotted fever group rickettsia tested which produced a lethal infection in C3H/HeJ mice was Rickettsia sibirica. Sublethal infection with any of the spotted fever rickettsiae tested protected against lethal infection with R. conorii. These data established a lethal challenge system for examining the protective efficacy of spotted fever immunogens and presented evidence of biological variation among strains of R. conorii.
PMCID: PMC263401  PMID: 6418657
25.  IL-6 and IL-8 production from cultured human endothelial cells stimulated by infection with Rickettsia conorii via a cell-associated IL-1 alpha-dependent pathway. 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  1995;96(6):2839-2844.
Mediterranean spotted fever due to infection by Rickettsia conorii, is characterized by a general vasculitis. This vasculitis is thought to be due to a direct injury to endothelial cells induced by R. conorii. However, production and activity of cytokines on endothelial cells is an important pathway in inflammation, and part of the underlying mechanism of vasculitis. In the present studies, human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) infected with R. conorii actively secrete high levels of IL-8 and IL-6 (P < 0.002, and P < 0.03, respectively, compared with uninfected cells). IL-1alpha, IL-1beta, or TNFalpha were not detected in the culture supernates. Nevertheless, IL-6 and IL-8 production was due, in a large part, to a cell-associated form of IL-1 alpha expressed on R. conorii-infected HUVEC, since production of these cytokines was suppressed by 80% (P = 0.0001) and 85% (P < 0.04) by the addition of IL-1 receptor antagonist, or anti-IL-1alpha antibodies (60% inhibition, P < 0.01 and 65% inhibition, P < 0.05, respectively) and IL-1alpha was measured after lysis of R. conorii-infected HUVEC but not in uninfected cells (P < 0.01). Rickettsial lipopolysaccharide does not seem to be involved, since polymyxin B did not reduce cytokine secretion. On the contrary, infection by intracellular R. conorii appears to be necessary to induce IL-1alpha and subsequently IL-8, since formalin-fixed R. conorii did not induce cytokine production. These observations demonstrate that R. conorii-infected HUVEC secrete IL-6 and IL-8 via the induction of cell-associated IL-1alpha, providing a possible mechanism for the vasculitis observed in Mediterranean spotted fever.
PMCID: PMC185994  PMID: 8675654

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