Epizootiology of Epidemic Typhus (Rickettsia Prowazekii) in Flying Squirrels

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  • Department of Biological Sciences, Old Dominion University, Division of Virology and Division of Pathology, Bureau of Biologics, Norfolk, Virginia 23508

Vector transmission of Rickettsia prowazekii among wild flying squirrels, Glaucomys volans, was suggested by the occurrence of natural infection of squirrel lice and fleas. Lice, mostly Neohaematopinus sciuropteri Osburn, were found infected in the fall in each of 2 consecutive years; 4 of the 8 pools of this insect tested were infected. Fleas, Orchopeas howardii (Baker), were found infected on two occasions in 1 of the 2 consecutive years. However, only 2 of 14 flea pools were infected. No evidence of infection was found in mites, Haemogamasus reidi Ewing and Androlaelaps fahrenholzi (Berlese). These findings implicate the flying squirrel louse and flea as possible vectors in nature. Serologic tests of flying squirrel sera revealed a maximum incidence of seroconversions in the fall and early winter months, coincident with the maximum increase in abundance of the suspected arthropod vectors. The infection was found to persist from year to year in the same enzootic foci. Infection appeared to spread most rapidly in young, non-immune animals born in the preceding spring and summer after congregating in dense aggregations in the fall. No other animals in the same habitat were found to have been infected. Aspects of the ecology of the ectoparasites associated with the flying squirrels are described, especially seasonal activity and abundance in nests. The potential public health importance of this sylvan in flying squirrels and in its ectoparasites, particularly the non-host specific, wide ranging squirrel flea, is noted.