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Manifestations and Management of Flea-Borne Rickettsioses

Authors Caravedo Martinez MA, Ramírez-Hernández A, Blanton LS

Received 29 November 2020

Accepted for publication 26 January 2021

Published 5 February 2021 Volume 2021:12 Pages 1—14


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Dr Mario Rodriguez-Perez

Maria A Caravedo Martinez,1 Alejandro Ramírez-Hernández,2 Lucas S Blanton1

1Department of Internal Medicine – Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX, USA; 2Department of Pathology, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX, USA

Correspondence: Lucas S Blanton 301 University Boulevard, Galveston, TX, 77555-0435, USA
Tel +1 (409) 747-0236
Fax +1 (409) 772-6527

Abstract: Murine typhus and flea-borne spotted fever are undifferentiated febrile illnesses caused by Rickettsia typhi and Rickettsia felis, respectively. These organisms are small obligately intracellular bacteria and are transmitted to humans by fleas. Murine typhus is endemic to coastal areas of the tropics and subtropics (especially port cities), where rats are the primary mammalian host and rat fleas (Xenopsylla cheopis) are the vector. In the United States, a cycle of transmission involving opossums and cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) are the presumed reservoir and vector, respectively. The incidence and distribution of murine typhus appear to be increasing in endemic areas of the US. Rickettsia felis has also been reported throughout the world and is found within the ubiquitous cat flea. Flea-borne rickettsioses manifest as an undifferentiated febrile illness. Headache, malaise, and myalgia are frequent symptoms that accompany fever. The incidence of rash is variable, so its absence should not dissuade the clinician to consider a rickettsial illness as part of the differential diagnosis. When present, the rash is usually macular or papular. Although not a feature of murine typhus, eschar has been found in 12% of those with flea-borne spotted fever. Confirmatory laboratory diagnosis is usually obtained by serology; the indirect immunofluorescence assay is the serologic test of choice. Antibodies are seldom present during the first few days of illness. Thus, the diagnosis requires acute- and convalescent-phase specimens to document seroconversion or a four-fold increase in antibody titer. Since laboratory diagnosis is usually retrospective, when a flea-borne rickettsiosis is considered, empiric treatment should be initiated. The treatment of choice for both children and adults is doxycycline, which results in a swift and effective response. The following review is aimed to summarize the key clinical, epidemiological, ecological, diagnostic, and treatment aspects of flea-borne rickettsioses.

Keywords: Rickettsia typhi, murine typhus, endemic typhus, flea-borne typhus, Rickettsia felis, flea-borne spotted fever, rickettsiosis

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