Article CC BY 4.0
refereed
published

Spotted Fever Group Rickettsiae in Ticks and Small Mammals from Grassland and Forest Habitats in Central Germany

Affiliation
University of Leipzig, Institute of Animal Hygiene and Veterinary Public Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Germany
Arz, Charlotte;
ORCID
0009-0006-8412-5530
Affiliation
University of Leipzig, Institute of Animal Hygiene and Veterinary Public Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Germany
Król, Nina;
GND
1172105332
Affiliation
Julius Kühn-Institute (JKI), Institute for Epidemiology and Pathogen Diagnostics, Germany
Imholt, Christian;
GND
1144499224
Affiliation
Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute (FLI), Institute of Novel and Emerging Infectious Diseases, Germany
Jeske, Kathrin;
Affiliation
University of Leipzig, Institute for Parasitology, Centre for Infectious Diseases, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Germany
Rentería-Solís, Zaida;
GND
1019565543
ORCID
0000-0002-5620-1528
Affiliation
Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute (FLI), Institute of Novel and Emerging Infectious Diseases, Germany
Ulrich, Rainer G.;
GND
122411307
Affiliation
Julius Kühn-Institute (JKI), Institute for Epidemiology and Pathogen Diagnostics, Germany
Jacob, Jens;
ORCID
0000-0002-2457-8224
Affiliation
University of Leipzig, Institute of Animal Hygiene and Veterinary Public Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Germany
Pfeffer, Martin;
Affiliation
University of Leipzig, Institute of Animal Hygiene and Veterinary Public Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Germany
Obiegala, Anna

Rickettsiae of the spotted fever group (SFG) are zoonotic tick-borne pathogens. Small mammals are important hosts for the immature life stages of two of the most common tick species in Europe, Ixodes ricinus and Dermacentor reticulatus. These hosts and vectors can be found in diverse habitats with different vegetation types like grasslands and forests. To investigate the influence of environmental and individual factors on Rickettsia prevalence, this study aimed to analyse the prevalence of SFG rickettsiae in ticks and small mammals in different small-scale habitats in central Germany for the first time. Small mammals of ten species and ticks of two species were collected from grasslands and forests in the Hainich-Dün region, central Germany. After species identification, DNA samples from 1098 ticks and ear snips of 1167 small mammals were screened for Rickettsia DNA by qPCR targeting the gltA gene. Positive samples were retested by conventional PCR targeting the ompB gene and sequencing. Rickettsia DNA was detected in eight out of ten small mammal species. Small mammal hosts from forests (14.0%) were significantly more often infected than those from grasslands (4.4%) (p < 0.001). The highest prevalence was found in the mostly forest-inhabiting genus Apodemus (14.8%) and the lowest in Microtus (6.6%), which inhabits grasslands. The prevalence was higher in D. reticulatus (46.3%) than in the I. ricinus complex (8.6%). Adult ticks were more often infected than nymphs (p = 0.0199). All sequenced rickettsiae in I. ricinus complex ticks were R. helvetica, and the ones in D. reticulatus were R. raoultii. Unlike adults, questing nymphs have had only one blood meal, which explains the higher prevalence in I. ricinus adults. Interestingly, habitat type did influence infection probability in small mammals, but did not in ticks. A possible explanation may be the high prevalence in Apodemus flavicollis and A. sylvaticus which were more abundant in the forest.

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