Evidence of rodent-associated Bartonella and Rickettsia infections among intravenous drug users from Central and East Harlem, New York City.

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  • 1 Viral and Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia 30333, USA. jnc0@cdc.gov

We tested serum samples collected in 1997 and 1998 from a cohort of 204 injection drug users (IDUs) recruited from Central and East Harlem, New York City, New York, for antibodies reactive with seven rickettsial or Bartonella spp. antigens. Rodent-associated Bartonella elizabethae and Rickettsia akari were the primary etiologic agents of interest. The testing panel also included Bartonella henselae, Bartonella quintana, Rickettsia prowazekii, Rickettsia rickettsii, and Rickettsia typhi. The highest prevalence of seroreactive serum samples (46%) was found with B. elizabethae antigens; 10% of the samples reacted with B. henselae antigens, while 2% reacted with B. quintana antigens. Reactivity to the latter two antigens was likely due to cross-reactivity with B. elizabethae antigens in most instances. Among the spotted fever group rickettsiae, 18 (9%) samples reacted with R. akari, including 10 samples (5%) that also reacted with R. rickettsii. Cross-adsorption studies demonstrated that most of the spotted fever group rickettsiae antibodies were due to R. akari infections. Among the typhus group rickettsiae, 5 samples reacted weakly to R. prowazekii antigens, and no samples reacted with R. typhi antigens. These findings suggest that Harlem IDUs are commonly exposed to two rodent-associated zoonotic agents. Further study of IDU populations may help elucidate transmission cycles of these agents in inner cities where higher levels of transmission occur.