Detection of Zoonotic Bartonella Pathogens in Rabbit Fleas, Colorado, USA
We detected 3 Bartonella species in wild rabbit fleas from Colorado, USA: B. vinsonii subsp. berkhoffii (n = 16), B. alsatica (n = 5), and B. rochalimae (n = 1). Our results support the establishment of the zoonotic agent B. alsatica in North America.
Wild lagomorphs (rabbits, hares, and pikas) are known or potential reservoirs for a number of zoonotic agents, including tularemia (Francisella tularensis), plague (Yersinia pestis), pasteurellosis (Pasteurella multocida), ringworm (Trichophyton spp.), and cryptosporidiosis (Cryptosporidium cuniculus) (1). In 1999, a novel Bartonella species, B. alsatica, was isolated from the blood of wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in eastern France (2). B. alsatica was later identified as a causative agent of lymphadenitis (3) and endocarditis (4,5) in humans. A case of prosthetic vascular graft infection caused by B. alsatica was reported in 2019 (6).
The geographic distribution of B. alsatica is poorly understood, as is its mode of transmission, although vector-mediated transmission was suggested upon initial characterization of this agent (2). B. alsatica DNA has been detected in fleas collected from Bartonella-infected wild rabbits in France (7) and Spain (8,9), suggesting the potential for fleaborne B. alsatica transmission. Our goal was to describe associations between rabbit-associated Bartonella and potential flea vectors in the United States to gain insights into transmission of fleaborne zoonoses.
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