Studies of Spotted Fever Rickettsia - Distribution, Detection, Diagnosis and Clinical Context : With a Focus on Vectors and Patients in Sweden

Abstract: The spotted fever rickettsia, Rickettsia helvetica, is an endemic tick-borne bacteria in Sweden. It causes infections in humans, manifested as aneruptive fever, headache, arthralgia and myalgia, and sometimes an inoculation eschar or a rash. There have also been two known cases of human infections with R. felis in Sweden.The present thesis starts by investigating dispersal of ticks and Rickettsia spp. by migrating birds flying from Africa to Europe. Almost 15,000 birds were searched and 734 ticks collected, mainly of the species Hyalomma marginatum complex. Almost half (48%) of the ticks were infected with Rickettsia spp., 96% of which was R. aeschlimannii, the remaining R. africae and undefined species.The next study focused on questing ticks over a large area in Sweden and determining the prevalence of Rickettsia spp., Anaplasma spp. and Coxiella burnetii. Rickettsia spp. was found in 9.5-9.6% of the ticks and A. phagocytophilum in 0.7%; no C. burnetii was found.The last three papers in the thesis focused on the clinical presentation of rickettsiosis, the symptoms associated with the infection in general and particularly in patients with neurological complications. A tick-exposed population in Sweden was investigated to gain a better understanding of symptoms due to rickettsioses, also in relation to co-infections with other tick-borne bacteria. Based on symptoms, it was not possible to distinguish what pathogen caused the infections. Most patients had erythema migrans, some had serological reactions to Rickettsia spp., Borrelia spp. or co-infections by Rickettsia spp., Borrelia spp. and/or Anaplasma spp. In the fourth and fifth papers, we found associations between antibodies against Rickettsia spp. and sudden deafness (in 10-24% of patients) and facial nerve paralysis (in 8.3-25% of patients). In three patients R. felis was detected in the cerebrospinal fluids.   Briefly, the thesis helps to clarify our knowledge about tick dispersal, shows a narrower prevalence estimate of Rickettsia spp. in Swedish ticks, and illuminates symptoms of rickettsioses and co-infections with other tick-borne infections. It also shows that presence of erythema migrans may be explained by more than Lyme disease and indicates a possible association between rickettsiosis and sudden deafness and facial nerve paralysis.