Antibody Seroprevalence to Spotted Fever Group Rickettsiae in Miraflores, Colombia: A Cross-Sectional Study in Humans and Dogs

Lídia Gual-Gonzalez Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina;

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Omar Cantillo-Barraza Grupo Biología y Control Enfermedades Infecciosas, Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia;

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Myriam E. Torres Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina;

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Juan C. Quintero-Vélez Grupo de Investigación Epidemiología, Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia;

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Manuel Medina Unidad de Control de Enfermedades Transmitidas por Vectores, Secretaría de Salud de Boyacá, Tunja, Colombia

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Stella C. W. Self Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina;

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Melissa S. Nolan Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina;

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Tick-borne disease burdens are increasing globally, impacting mostly rural and vulnerable communities. Among the most important emerging tick-borne pathogens are the Rickettsia species within the spotted fever group (SFGR) because of their genetic diversity and high lethality rate. Colombia is highly affected by SFGR despite not being reportable diseases; thus, research and clinical management are neglected. Although some departments have demonstrated high seroprevalence rates, in others, such as Boyacá Department, seroprevalence is unknown. Rickettsioses have not been described in Boyacá since 1943, and conversations with local physicians raised suspicions of recent undiagnosed disease compatible with rickettsiosis in some rural areas of the department, warranting epidemiological investigation. Using biobanked human and canine samples from a previous 2021 vector-borne disease study in Miraflores municipality, Boyacá, we had an opportunity to unearth SFGR’s exposure in the region. Samples were evaluated using IgG indirect fluorescent assays against SFGR and complemented by survey questionnaires evaluating associated factors. Findings yielded first-time SFGR serological evidence in Boyacá with a 26.5% seroprevalence among dogs and a 20.4% among humans. Human and dog seroprevalences were positively associated, suggesting the presence of domestic transmission. Owning a greater number of domestic animals (prevalence ratio adjusted for all measured factors [aPR], 1.52) and living near crop fields (aPR, 7.77) were associated with an increased likelihood of household seropositivity. Our findings are consistent with the literature in Colombia, uncovering a suspected region where the disease is endemic. Future studies are warranted to continue defining high-risk areas to determine public health intervention plans.

Author Notes

Financial support: This study was supported by investigator discretionary funds provided by the University of South Carolina Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

Disclosure: S. C. W. Self receives consulting fees from the Companion Animal Parasite Council and Merck Corporation, but these entities had no involvement with the published work. The present study involved animal and human subjects. Ethical approval was obtained by the University of Antioquia Ethics Committee (21-02-974) and the Animal Research Ethics Committee (no. 143; December 7, 2021) under the Helsinki Declaration and with consideration for the international ethical protocols for biomedical investigation in human subjects. All subjects and dog owners signed a written informed consent form for their participation or the participation of their pets. For minors <18 years old, parents or legal guardians accompanied their minor and authorized their participation by signing informed consent on their behalf.

Data availability: The data obtained from this study is available upon request to the corresponding author.

Authors’ addresses: Lídia Gual-Gonzalez, Myriam E. Torres, Stella C. W. Self, and Melissa S. Nolan, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, E-mails: lidiag@email.sc.edu, torresme@mailbox.sc.edu, scwatson@mailbox.sc.edu, and msnolan@mailbox.sc.edu. Omar Cantillo-Barraza, Grupo Biología y Control Enfermedades Infecciosas, Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia, E-mail: omar.cantillo@udea.edu.co. Juan C. Quintero-Vélez, Grupo de Investigación Epidemiología, Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia, E-mail: juan.quintero@udea.edu.co. Manuel Medina, Unidad de Control de Enfermedades Transmitidas por Vectores, Secretaría de Salud de Boyacá, Tunja, Colombia, E-mail: mano.medica349@gmail.com.

Address correspondence to Melissa S. Nolan, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of South Carolina, 915 Greene St., Room 327-A, Columbia, SC 29201. E-mail: msnolan@mailbox.sc.edu
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