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Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis. 2016 May;16(5):302-8. doi: 10.1089/vbz.2015.1887. Epub 2016 Mar 23.

Incident Tick-Borne Infections in a Cohort of North Carolina Outdoor Workers.

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1 Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina, Gillings School of Global Public Health , Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
2 Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , Atlanta, Georgia .
3 Division of Infectious Diseases, University of North Carolina School of Medicine , Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
4 Department of Entomology, North Carolina State University , Raleigh, North Carolina.


Tick-borne diseases cause substantial morbidity throughout the United States, and North Carolina has a high incidence of spotted fever rickettsioses and ehrlichiosis, with sporadic cases of Lyme disease. The occupational risk of tick-borne infections among outdoor workers is high, particularly those working on publicly managed lands. This study identified incident tick-borne infections and examined seroconversion risk factors among a cohort of North Carolina outdoor workers. Workers from the North Carolina State Divisions of Forestry, Parks and Recreation, and Wildlife (n = 159) were followed for 2 years in a randomized controlled trial evaluating the effectiveness of long-lasting permethrin-impregnated clothing. Antibody titers against Rickettsia parkeri, Rickettsia rickettsii, "Rickettsia amblyommii," and Ehrlichia chaffeensis were measured at baseline (n = 130), after 1 year (n = 82), and after 2 years (n = 73). Titers against Borrelia burgdorferi were measured at baseline and after 2 years (n = 90). Baseline seroprevalence, defined as indirect immunofluorescence antibody titers of 1/128 or greater, was R. parkeri (24%), R. rickettsii (19%), "R. amblyommii" (12%), and E. chaffeensis (4%). Incident infection was defined as a fourfold increase in titer over a 1-year period. There were 40 total seroconversions to at least one pathogen, including R. parkeri (n = 19), "R. amblyommii" (n = 14), R. rickettsii (n = 9), and E. chaffeensis (n = 8). There were no subjects whose sera were reactive to B. burgdorferi C6 antigen. Thirty-eight of the 40 incident infections were subclinical. The overall risk of infection by any pathogen during the study period was 0.26, and the risk among the NC Division of Forest Resources workers was 1.73 times that of workers in other divisions (95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.02, 2.92). The risk of infection was lower in subjects wearing permethrin-impregnated clothing, but not significantly (risk ratio = 0.81; 95% CI: 0.47, 1.39). In summary, outdoor workers in North Carolina are at high risk of incident tick-borne infections, most of which appear to be asymptomatic.


Epidemiology; Rickettsia; Serology; Tick(s)

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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