Between 2006 and 2008, three outbreaks of human rickettsiosis occurred in Northwestern Colombia (municipalities of Necoclí, Los Córdobas and Turbo), with case fatality rates between 27% and 54%. The aim of this study was to determine previous exposure of wild and domestic animals to spotted fever group (SFG) rickettsiae through serological tests, to detect rickettsial evidence in their ectoparasites, and to analyze their possible role in the epidemiology of rickettsial diseases in this zone of the country. A cross-sectional association study was performed from 2010 to 2011. Blood and ectoparasite samples were collected from domestic animals and small mammals. A statistically significant association (p < 0.05) between seropositive animals and the study zones was observed. A total of 2937 ticks, 672 fleas and 74 lice were collected and tested in pools by PCR. The minimum infection rate (MIR) of the positive pools was 5% in ticks, 4% in fleas, and 0% in lice. Phylogenetic analyses showed circulation of three 4.Rickettsia species: R. felis in fleas, and R. bellii and Rickettsia sp. strain Atlantic rainforest, both in Amblyomma ovale ticks. In conclusion, this study demonstrated the occurrence of SFG rickettsiae in domestic, synanthropic and wild animals, and suggests the use of equines and canines as good sentinels of infection, in the study zone. We speculate that a transmission cycle exist involving rodents in the areas where these outbreaks have occurred. Tomes' spiny rats (Proechimys semispinosus) and common opossums (Didelphis marsupialis) could be good candidates as amplifier hosts for SFG rickettsiae in enzootic/endemic zones.
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