Unrecognized Spotted Fever Group Rickettsiosis Masquerading as Dengue Fever in Mexico

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  • Faculty of Medicine, Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan, Center for Tropical Diseases, University of Texas Medical Branch, Merida, Yucatan, Mexico

Although Rocky Mountain spotted fever was documented in northern Mexico during the 1940s, spotted fever group (SFG) rickettsioses have subsequently received little attention in Mexico. In this study, sera collected in 1993 from 50 patients from the Mexican states of Yucatan and Jalisco, who were suspected clinically to have dengue fever but had no antibodies to dengue virus, were examined by indirect immunofluorescence for IgM antibodies reactive with Rickettsia rickettsii, R. akari, and R. typhi. Twenty (40%) of the patients' sera contained IgM antibodies to SFG rickettsiae at a titer of 128 or greater. Among five sera reactive only against R. akari, four were from patients in Jalisco where a cluster of cases occurred in June and July. Among five sera reactive only with R. rickettsii, all were from Yucatan patients. Sera of 10 patients contained antibodies reactive with antigens shared by R. rickettsii and R. akari. The clinical signs and symptoms (fever, 100%; myalgia, 95%; headache, 85%; rash, 85%) were similar to those of dengue fever patients identified in this study. However, the incidence of rash was substantially higher than the nondengue, nonrickettsiosis patients. One or more SFG rickettsioses appear to be present in areas of Mexico not previously recognized to harbor these organisms. The etiologic agent or agents are as yet unknown.