Epidemiological and Bacteriological Aspects of Spotted Fever Rickettsioses in Humans, Vectors and Mammals in Sweden

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: Rickettsiae are obligate intracellular gram-negative bacteria transmitted by arthropod vectors. Rickettsiae sometimes cause disease in humans, typically with high fever, headache and occasionally an eschar.In Sweden, Rickettsia helvetica, belonging to the spotted fever group, is the only tick-transmitted rickettsia found free in nature. The pathogenic roll of R. helvetica has not been fully investigated, but it has been implicated in aneruptive fever and cardiac disease.This thesis describes parts of the transmission pathways of rickettsiae in Sweden. Rickettsia infection rates in ticks collected from birds were analysed, and the birds’ role as disseminators and reservoirs was studied. We found that more than one in ten ticks was infected with rickettsia bacteria, predominantly R. helvetica, and that migrating birds contribute not only to long-distance dispersion of bacteria, but also to an inflow of novel and potentially pathogenic rickettsia species, in this case R. monacensis and R. sp. strain Davousti-like species, into Sweden.Further, wild and domestic animals were found to have seroreactivity against R. helvetica, which shows that they are exposed and susceptible to rickettsia. Their role as reservoirs has not been determined, yet they may indirectly be involved in transmission of rickettsia to humans by infected ticks feeding on them.The seroreactivity in humans was also studied. Patients investigated for suspected Borrelioses and blood donors had detectable antibodies against Rickettsia spp., with the highest prevalence detected in the suspected Borreliosis group. This shows that humans in Sweden are exposed to and develop an immune response against rickettsia. The suspicion that R. helvetica may cause severe symptoms was verified by a patient with subacute meningitis where the bacterium was shown for the first time to cause an invasive infection with CNS involvement and where the bacterium was isolated from the patient’s cerebrospinal fluid.Growth characteristics and morphology of R. helvetica were studied to better understand invasiveness and virulence. The findings indicate that the invasiveness is comparable with other rickettsia, though R. helvetica seems to have a stable but slightly slower growth. Rickettsia helvetica is endemic in Sweden and therefore needs to be considered when investigating disease after a tick bite.