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EXPERIMENTALLY INFECTED HUMAN BODY LICE (PEDICULUS HUMANUS HUMANUS) AS VECTORS OF RICKETTSIA RICKETTSII AND RICKETTSIA CONORII IN A RABBIT MODEL

LINDA HOUHAMDIUnité des Rickettsies, Institut Fédératif de Recherche 48, Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, Unité Mixte de Recherche 6020, Université de la Méditerranée, Faculté de Médecine, Marseille, France

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DIDIER RAOULTUnité des Rickettsies, Institut Fédératif de Recherche 48, Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, Unité Mixte de Recherche 6020, Université de la Méditerranée, Faculté de Médecine, Marseille, France

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The human body louse, the natural vector of Rickettsia prowazekii, is able to experimentally transmit the normally flea-borne rickettsia R. typhi, suggesting that the relationships between the body louse and rickettsiae are not specific. We used our experimental infection model to test the ability of body lice to transmit two prevalent tick-borne rickettsiae. Each of two rabbits was made bacteremic by injecting intravenously 2 × 106 plaque-forming units of either R. rickettsii or R. conorii. Four hundred body lice were infected by feeding on the bacteremic rabbit and were compared with 400 uninfected lice. Each louse group was fed once a day on a separate seronegative rabbit. The survival of infected lice was not different from that of uninfected controls. Lice remained infected for their lifespan, excreted R. rickettsii and R. conorii in their feces, but did not transmit the infection to their progeny. The nurse rabbit of uninfected lice remained asymptomatic and seronegative. Those rabbits used to feed infected lice developed bacteremia and seroconverted. Although the body louse is not a known vector of spotted fevers, it was able in our study to acquire, maintain, and transmit both R. rickettsii and R. conorii.

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