Newborn Rats in the Murine Typhus Enzootic Infection Cycle: Studies on Transplacental Infection and Passively Acquired Maternal Antirickettsial Antibodies

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  • 1 Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21201
  • * Virology and Immunology Section, Department of Microbiology, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Universidad de Valle, Cali, Colombia

This study focused attention on the newborn rat as a possible significant participant in the highly successful enzootic cycle of murine typhus. We examined the influence of maternal Rickettsia typhi (R. mooseri) infection in rats on the offspring with respect to the possible vertical transmission of R. typhi and the passive transfer of maternal antirickettsial antibodies. Transmission of R. typhi by rickettsemic pregnant rats did not occur either transplacentally during gestation to their fetuses or postnatally through colostrum and milk to their newborn. The rickettsial burden of the placenta was sometimes > 106 plaque forming units per g tissue and undetectable in colostrum or milk. However, newborn rats were highly susceptible to infection per os. Transplacental passage of anti-rickettsial antibody to offspring was detectable only when the mother's antibody titer was high. Passive postpartum acquisition of antirickettsial antibodies by newborn rats from colostrum and milk of immune mothers occurred regardless of the height of the maternal antibody titer, rose to a maximum at about 3 weeks of age, and then declined rapidly, becoming undetectable 4 weeks after birth.

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