Diversity of piroplasms detected in blood-fed and questing ticks from several states in the United States.

Shock BC, Moncayo A, Cohen S, Mitchell EA, Williamson PC, Lopez G, Garrison LE, Yabsley MJ.

online before print 2014 Apr 4.


Piroplasms in the genera Babesia, Theileria, and Cytauxzoon are tick-borne parasites that may be animal and human pathogens. Most piroplasms with known life cycles are transmitted by ixodid ticks; however, for many species, the vector is unknown. This study was conducted to determine the prevalence and diversity of piroplasms in ticks from several US states.
Piroplasm-specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays were used to test 1631 ticks from Georgia (n=486), Kentucky (n=103), Pennsylvania (n=1), Tennessee (n=626), and Texas (n=414). Ticks were either questing (n=42) or collected from animals (n=627) or humans (n=962). The 2 primary species tested were Dermacentor variabilis (n=702) and Amblyomma americanum (n=743), but Amblyomma cajennense (n=99), Amblyomma maculatum (n=16), Ixodes scapularis (n=4), I. woodi (n=1), and unidentified Amblyomma spp. nymphs (n=64) were also tested.
A low prevalence of piroplasms was detected with 37 (2.3%), 35 (2.1%), and 9 (0.6%) ticks positive for Theileria spp., Babesia spp., or Cytauxzoon felis, respectively. Based on sequence analysis, at least 6 Babesia spp. were detected and 15 of the 35 (41%) Babesia-positive ticks were A. americanum, 19 (56%) were D. variabilis, and one (3%) was an I. scapularis. Nine Babesia-positive ticks were removed from humans from Kentucky (n=1), Georgia (n=2), Texas (n=5), and Pennsylvania (n=1). Three Babesia-positive ticks were questing A. americanum which represents the first report of Babesia-infected questing Amblyomma in the US. Theileria infections were only detected in A. americanum, and all sequences were similar to white-tailed deer associated Theileria spp. C. felis was only detected in D. variabilis.
These data suggest that A. americanum may be a vector of Babesia spp., although experimental studies are needed to confirm vector competence. Finally, these data demonstrate a high diversity of piroplasms in both questing and partially fed ticks in the US; although, host-blood meals can be present in non-questing ticks.

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