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J Med Entomol. 2009 Jul;46(4):723-36.

Ecology of Rickettsia felis: a review.

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  • 1Department of Pathobiological Sciences, Louisiana State University, School of Veterinary Medicine, Skip Bertman Dr., Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA.


It has been two decades since the first description of Rickettsia felis, and although a nearly cosmopolitan distribution is now apparent, much of the ecology of this unique microorganism remains unresolved. The cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis, is currently the only known biological vector of R. felis; however, molecular evidence of R. felis in other species of fleas as well as in ticks and mites suggests a variety of arthropod hosts. Studies examining the transmission of R. felis using colonized cat fleas have shown stable vertical transmission but not horizontal transmission. Likewise, serological and molecular tools have been used to detect R. felis in a number of vertebrate hosts, including humans, in the absence of a clear mechanism of horizontal transmission. Considered an emerging flea-borne rickettsiosis, clinical manifestation of R. felis infection in humans, including, fever, rash, and headache is similar to other rickettsial diseases. Recent advances toward further understanding the ecology of R. felis have been facilitated by stable R. felis-infected cat flea colonies, several primary flea isolates and sustained maintenance of R. felis in cell culture systems, and highly sensitive quantitative molecular assays. Here, we provide a synopsis of R. felis including the known distribution and arthropods infected; transmission mechanisms; current understanding of vertebrate infection and human disease; and the tools available to further examine R. felis.

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