Pathogenic potential of a Costa Rican strain of 'Candidatus Rickettsia amblyommii' in guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus) and protective immunity against Rickettsia rickettsii.
To determine the risk of canine infection with spotted fever group (SFG) Rickettsia spp. following natural tick exposure, 10 dogs determined to be free of evidence of exposure to or infection with tick-borne disease agents were exposed to ticks via weekly walks in a wooded area in north-central Oklahoma. After each walk, dogs were examined and the number and species of ticks present were recorded. The dogs were then returned to outdoor kennels to allow the infestations and subsequent transmission of any pathogens to proceed. Serum samples and whole blood were collected from each dog twice weekly for 121 days and evaluated via indirect fluorescence antibody (IFA) for antibodies reactive to Rickettsia rickettsii, R. montanensis, and "R. amblyommii," and by PCR for evidence of Rickettsia spp. Dogs became infested with a total of 57-108 ticks over the entire 8-week infestation period (weekly average tick infestation=12.0±4.1). The great majority of the ticks present were Amblyomma americanum (90.5%), with a small number of Dermacentor variabilis and A. maculatum also identified. All (10/10) dogs seroconverted to R. rickettsii, R. montanensis, and "R. amblyommii," with mean maximum inverse titers of 1176, 1448, and 6654, respectively, for all dogs in the study. Maximum inverse titers to "R. amblyommii" ranged from 4096 to 16,384 and were higher in 9/10 dogs than maximum inverse titers to R. rickettsii or R. montanensis. Sequence-confirmed SFG Rickettsia spp. (R. montanensis and "R. amblyommii") were occasionally, but not consistently, identified from whole blood by PCR. Taken together, our data suggest that, in areas where A. americanum is common, antibodies reactive to R. rickettsii in dogs may be due instead to infection with "R. amblyommii" or other, closely related SFG Rickettsia spp.