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PLoS One. 2017 Sep 20;12(9):e0184621. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0184621. eCollection 2017.

Detection of bacterial pathogens including potential new species in human head lice from Mali.

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Aix Marseille Univ, CNRS, IRD, INSERM, AP-HM, URMITE, IHU - Méditerranée Infection, Marseille, France.
University of Bamako, Epidemiology Department of Parasitic Diseases, Faculty of Medicine and Odonto-Stomatology, Faculty of Pharmacy (MRTC/DEAP/FMOS-FAPH), Bamako, Mali.
Campus International UCAD-IRD, Dakar, Senegal.


In poor African countries, where no medical and biological facilities are available, the identification of potential emerging pathogens of concern at an early stage is challenging. Head lice, Pediculus humanus capitis, have a short life, feed only on human blood and do not transmit pathogens to their progeny. They are, therefore, a perfect tool for the xenodiagnosis of current or recent human infection. This study assessed the occurrence of bacterial pathogens from head lice collected in two rural villages from Mali, where a high frequency of head lice infestation had previously been reported, using molecular methods. Results show that all 600 head lice, collected from 117 individuals, belonged to clade E, specific to West Africa. Bartonella quintana, the causative agent of trench fever, was identified in three of the 600 (0.5%) head lice studied. Our study also shows, for the first time, the presence of the DNA of two pathogenic bacteria, namely Coxiella burnetii (5.1%) and Rickettsia aeschlimannii (0.6%), detected in human head lice, as well as the DNA of potential new species from the Anaplasma and Ehrlichia genera of unknown pathogenicity. The finding of several Malian head lice infected with B. quintana, C. burnetii, R. aeschlimannii, Anaplasma and Ehrlichia is alarming and highlights the need for active survey programs to define the public health consequences of the detection of these emerging bacterial pathogens in human head lice.

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