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Molecular Detection of Rickettsia felis in Fleas of Companion Animals in East Texas

Lixin WangDepartment of Biological Sciences, College of Science and Engineering Technology, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas;

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Ammie RupaniCollege of Osteopathic Medicine, Sam Houston State University, Conroe, Texas

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Luis A. GradoDepartment of Biological Sciences, College of Science and Engineering Technology, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas;

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Luis M. Lopez SalazaraDepartment of Biological Sciences, College of Science and Engineering Technology, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas;

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LaReyna A. TrinidadDepartment of Biological Sciences, College of Science and Engineering Technology, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas;

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Jerry L. CookDepartment of Biological Sciences, College of Science and Engineering Technology, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas;

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Jeremy BechelliDepartment of Biological Sciences, College of Science and Engineering Technology, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas;

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ABSTRACT.

Flea-borne spotted fever is an emerging insect-borne rickettsial infection caused by Rickettsia felis and has been identified worldwide. This study sought to explore the prevalence of rickettsiae associated with fleas on companion dogs and cats from Walker and Montgomery Counties in East Texas. Fleas were collected from animals entering local veterinary clinics for routine checkups. Collected fleas were identified as Ctenocephalides felis or Pulex irritans and analyzed by polymerase chain reaction for the presence of rickettsiae and subsequent sequencing. An estimation of the bcMLE (bias-corrected maximum likelihood estimation) of pooled samples was calculated. Four hundred eighty-eight fleas (comprising C. felis and P. irritans) were collected from 16 cats and 77 dogs. Our results demonstrate R. felis in 21 pools of fleas from dogs (bcMLE 15.28%) and a bcMLE of 7.25% from flea samples collected from cats. Sequence analysis revealed R. felis as the only Rickettsia that could be amplified in our samples using the rickettsial citrate synthase gene and subsequent sequencing. In this study, the presence of R. felis in fleas from companion cats and dogs suggests a potential risk of flea-borne spotted fever in humans who encounter flea-infested animals.

Author Notes

Address correspondence to Jeremy Bechelli, Department of Biological Sciences, College of Science and Engineering Technology, Sam Houston State University, 2000 Ave I, Life Sciences Building, Huntsville, TX 77341-2116. E-mail: jrb138@shsu.edu

Authors’ addresses: Lixin Wang, Luis A. Grado, Luis. M. Lopez Salazara, LaReyna A. Trinidad, Jerry L. Cook, and Jeremy Bechelli, Department of Biological Sciences, College of Science and Engineering Technology, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX, E-mails: lxw024@shsu.edu, lag042@shsu.edu, lml060@shsu.edu, lat042@shsu.edu, bio_jlc@shsu.edu, and jrb138@shsu.edu. Ammie Rupani, College of Osteopathic Medicine, Sam Houston State University, Conroe, TX, E-mail: aar105@shsu.edu.

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