The ability of the invasive Asian longhorned tick Haemaphysalis longicornis (Acari: Ixodidae) to acquire and transmit Rickettsia rickettsii (Rickettsiales: Rickettsiaceae), the agent of rocky mountain spotted fever, under laboratory conditions.
The invasive Asian longhorned tick, Haemaphysalis longicornis Neumann, was first detected in the United States in 2017. It has since been found in 12 states, and there is concern that the tick's parthenogenetic ability and wide variety of host species may allow for broader dissemination. Of the tick-borne diseases endemic to the United States, Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), a rapidly progressive and potentially fatal disease caused by Rickettsia rickettsii, is the most severe. There is considerable geographical overlap between spotted fever rickettsioses cases, which include RMSF, and the currently known distribution of H. longicornis, providing the potential for this tick to encounter this pathogen. We have evaluated the ability of H. longicornis to acquire and transmit R. rickettsii under laboratory conditions. Haemaphysalis longicornis as larvae and nymphs acquired the pathogen while feeding on infected guinea pigs. The infection persisted through every life stage, all of which were able to transmit R. rickettsii to naïve hosts. The pathogen was also transmitted at a low frequency between generations of H. longicornis through the ova. While H. longicornis was demonstrated to be a competent vector for R. rickettsii under laboratory conditions, the probability of its involvement in the maintenance and transmission of this pathogen in nature, as well as its potential impact on human health, requires further study.