BackgroundBrazilian spotted fever (BSF), caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii, has been associated with the transmission by the tick Amblyomma sculptum, and one of its main hosts, the capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris).MethodsDuring 2015–2019, we captured capybaras and ticks in seven highly anthropic areas of São Paulo state (three endemic and four nonendemic for BSF) and in two natural areas of the Pantanal biome, all with established populations of capybaras.ResultsThe BSF-endemic areas were characterized by much higher tick burdens on both capybaras and in the environment, when compared to the BSF-nonendemic areas. Only two tick species (A. sculptum and Amblyomma dubitatum) were found in the anthropic areas; however, with a great predominance of A. sculptum (≈90% of all ticks) in the endemic areas, in contrast to a slight predominance of A. dubitatum (≈60%) in the nonendemic areas. Tick species richness was higher in the natural areas, where six species were found, albeit with a predominance of A. sculptum (≈95% of all ticks) and environmental tick burdens much lower than in the anthropic areas. The BSF-endemic areas were characterized by overgrowth populations of A. sculptum that were sustained chiefly by capybaras, and decreased populations of A. dubitatum. In contrast, the BSF-nonendemic areas with landscape similar to the endemic areas differed by having lower tick burdens and a slight predominance of A. dubitatum over A.sculptum, both sustained chiefly by capybaras. While multiple medium- to large-sized mammals have been incriminated as important hosts for A. sculptum in the natural areas, the capybara was the only important host for this tick in the anthropic areas.ConclusionsThe uneven distribution of R. rickettsii infection among A. sculptum populations in highly anthropic areas of São Paulo state could be related to the tick population size and its proportion to sympatric A. dubitatum populations.
Both symbiotic and pathogenic bacteria in the family Coxiellaceae cause morbidity and mortality in humans and animals. For instance, Coxiella-like endosymbionts (CLEs) improve the reproductive success of ticks — a major disease vector, while Coxiella burnetii causes human Q fever, and uncharacterized coxiellae infect both animals and humans. To better understand the evolution of pathogenesis and symbiosis in this group of intracellular bacteria, we sequenced the genome of a CLE present in the soft tick Ornithodoros amblus (CLEOA) and compared it to the genomes of other bacteria in the order Legionellales. Our analyses confirmed that CLEOA is more closely related to C. burnetii, the human pathogen, than to CLEs in hard ticks, and showed that most clades of CLEs contain both endosymbionts and pathogens, indicating that several CLE lineages have evolved independently from pathogenic Coxiella. We also determined that the last common ancestor of CLEOA and C. burnetii was equipped to infect macrophages, and that even though horizontal gene transfer (HGT) contributed significantly to the evolution of C. burnetii, most acquisition events occurred primarily in ancestors predating the CLEOA-C. burnetii divergence. These discoveries clarify the evolution of C. burnetii, which previously was assumed to have emerged when an avirulent tick endosymbiont recently gained virulence factors via HGT. Finally, we identified several metabolic pathways, including heme biosynthesis, that are likely critical to the intracellular growth of the human pathogen but not the tick symbiont, and show that the use of heme analog is a promising approach to controlling C. burnetii infections.
Santa Catarina State in southern Brazil is the state with the second highest number of laboratory-confirmed cases of spotted fever illness in Brazil. However, all these cases were confirmed solely by serological analysis (seroconversion to spotted fever group rickettsiae), which has not allowed identification of the rickettsial agent. Here, a clinical case of spotted fever illness from Santa Catarina is shown by seroconversion and molecular analysis to be caused by Rickettsia sp. strain Atlantic rainforest. This is the third confirmed clinical case due to this emerging rickettsial agent in Brazil. Like the previous two cases, the patient presented an inoculation eschar at the tick bite site. Our molecular diagnosis was performed on DNA extracted from the crust removed from the eschar. These results are supported by previous epidemiological studies in Santa Catarina, which showed that nearly 10% of the most common human-biting ticks were infected by Rickettsia sp. strain Atlantic rainforest.
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