Rickettsia africae and other unclassified Rickettsia species of the spotted fever group in ticks of the Western Ghats, India

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Experimental and Applied Acarology


The spotted fever group (SFG) of Rickettsia are zoonotic disease-causing pathogens, commonly transmitted by hard ticks to a wide range of hosts, including humans. Rickettsia conorii is the common SFG recognised in India, whereas most of the infections due to other group species go undifferentiated at the species level. Hence, this study was conducted to screen host-seeking ticks in the Western Ghats region, India, for the DNA of SFG Rickettsia. The ticks were collected from Kerala, Goa, and Maharashtra states of India during a survey conducted between November 2017 and January 2018. In total, 288 tick pools were screened for Rickettsia spp. DNA using pan-Rickettsia real-time PCR, and conventional PCR targeting the gltA, OmpA and 17-kDa protein-coding genes. Nucleotide sequences were subjected to phylogenetic analysis using the NCBI BLAST tool to identify submitted sequences with higher homology. Neighbour-joining trees were constructed using the reference sequences of the GenBank database. Overall, Rickettsia spp. DNA was detected in 27.2% (62/228 pools) of host-seeking ticks across the Western Ghats region, with an estimated minimum infection rate of 0.057. Upon phylogenetic analysis, it was identified that the detected sequences were highly similar (> 99% sequence homology) to R. africae, Candidatus R. laoensis and an un-categorised Rickettsia species, and they were widely carried by Haemaphysalis ticks. The current study is the first report of R. africae and Candidatus R. laoensis in ticks in India. Although the pathogenicity of these species is not well documented, they may pose a potential threat to both animal and the human population in this geographical region.

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