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J Clin Microbiol. 1992 Jul;30(7):1758-62.

Typhus and typhuslike rickettsiae associated with opossums and their fleas in Los Angeles County, California.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore 21201.


The recent discovery of cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) infected with a typhuslike rickettsia (designated the ELB agent) raises the question of whether similar rickettsial infections exist in wild cat flea populations. We verified the presence of the ELB agent and Rickettsia typhi in urban and suburban areas of Los Angeles, Calif. Opossums trapped in close proximity to the residences of human murine typhus cases in Los Angeles county and other areas within the city of Los Angeles were tested for the presence of typhus group rickettsiae by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The presence of rickettsiae in the spleen tissues of three opossums (n = 9) and in 66 opossum fleas (n = 205) was determined by PCR and was verified by dot blot and Southern transfer hybridization. Further analysis of the amplified PCR products generated by a series of primer pairs derived from either the 17-kDa antigen gene or the citrate synthase gene revealed that both R. typhi and the ELB agent were present in the tested samples. Dual infection was not noted in the samples; however, the fleas were infected with either R. typhi or the ELB agent. The presence of the ELB agent in the cat flea population may have implications for public health. Whether this agent is responsible for the mild cases of human murine typhus in urban and suburban areas of Los Angeles or in other endemic foci remains to be determined.

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