Uptake and fecal excretion of Coxiella burnetii by Ixodes ricinus and Dermacentor marginatus ticks
BACKGROUND:The bacterium Coxiella burnetii is the etiological agent of Q fever and is mainly transmitted via inhalation of infectious aerosols. DNA of C. burnetii is frequently detected in ticks, but the role of ticks as vectors in the epidemiology of this agent is still controversial. In this study, Ixodes ricinus and Dermacentor marginatus adults as well as I. ricinus nymphs were fed on blood spiked with C. burnetii in order to study the fate of the bacterium within putative tick vectors. METHODS:Blood-feeding experiments were performed in vitro in silicone-membrane based feeding units. The uptake, fecal excretion and transstadial transmission of C. burnetii was examined by quantitative real-time PCR as well as cultivation of feces and crushed tick filtrates in L-929 mouse fibroblast cells and cell-free culture medium. RESULTS:Ticks successfully fed in the feeding system with engorgement rates ranging from 29% (D. marginatus) to 64% (I. ricinus adults). Coxiella burnetii DNA was detected in the feces of both tick species during and after feeding on blood containing 105 or 106 genomic equivalents per ml blood (GE/ml), but not when fed on blood containing only 104 GE/ml. Isolation and cultivation demonstrated the infectivity of C. burnetii in shed feces. In 25% of the I. ricinus nymphs feeding on inoculated blood, a transstadial transmission to the adult stage was detected. Females that molted from nymphs fed on inoculated blood excreted C. burnetii of up to 106 genomic equivalents per mg of feces. CONCLUSIONS:These findings show that transstadial transmission of C. burnetii occurs in I. ricinus and confirm that I. ricinus is a potential vector for Q fever. Transmission from both tick species might occur by inhalation of feces containing high amounts of viable C. burnetii rather than via tick bites.