Spotted fever group (SFG) rickettsiae have recently been identified for the first time in UK ticks. This included the findings of Rickettsia helvetica in Ixodes ricinus and Rickettsia raoultii in Dermacentor reticulatus. This paper further investigates the occurrence of SFG rickettsiae in additional geographically distinct populations of D. reticulatus, and for the first time, investigates the occurrence of SFG rickettsiae in UK populations of Haemaphysalis punctata ticks.
Questing D. reticulatus and H. punctata were collected at a number of sites in England and Wales. DNA from questing ticks was extracted by alkaline lysis and detection of rickettsiae DNA was performed, in addition to detection of A. phagocytophilum, N. mikurensis, C. burnetii and B. burgdorferi sensu lato.
This paper builds on previous findings to include the detection of spotted fever Rickettsia which showed the highest homology to Rickettsia massiliae in Haemaphysalis punctata, as well as R. helvetica in D. reticulatus. The occurrence of SFG rickettsiae in D. reticulatus in the UK appears to be confined only to Welsh and Essex populations, with no evidence so far from Devon. Similarly, the occurrence of SFG rickettsiae in H. punctata appears confined to one of two farms known to be infested with this tick in North Kent, with no evidence so far from the Sussex populations. Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Neoehrlichia mikurensis, Coxiella burnetii and Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato DNA was not detected in any of the ticks.
These two tick species are highly restricted in their distribution in England and Wales, but where they do occur they can be abundant. Following detection of these SFG rickettsiae in additional UK tick species, as well as I. ricinus, research should now be directed towards clarifying firstly the geographic distribution of SFG rickettsiae in UK ticks, and secondly to assess the prevalence rates in ticks, wild and domesticated animals and humans to identify the drivers for disease transmission and their public health significance.