Rickettsialpox — a rare but not extinct disease: review of the literature and new directions

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Rickettsialpox is an urban zoonosis caused by Rickettsia akari. To date R. akari is the only well-characterized mite-borne member of the spotted fever group. It is transmitted by the mouse mite, Liponyssoides sanguineus, commonly found on peridomestic rodents. While the disease was first discovered in New York City in 1946, a few years later a similar outbreak occurred in the Ukraine SSR. Numerous serosurveys and diagnosis of sporadic cases of rickettsialpox suggest its global distribution; however, the actual contemporary geography of rickettsialpox and its incidence are unknown. Rickettsialpox is characterized by the classic clinical triad found in rickettsioses of a black eschar, high fever, and rash but the latter is atypical as it is papulovesicular. Dermatological manifestations and the progression of rickettsialpox may mimic other infectious and noninfectious syndromes, including sexually transmitted diseases. The purpose of this review is to increase awareness of this unique disease through reanalysis of classic and contemporary clinical descriptions of rickettsialpox, evaluation of its worldwide distribution, and updates on the public health importance of the disease as well as the ecology and vector associations of R. akari. Our review data suggests that only limited genetic diversity exists among the available isolates of R. akari associated with previous outbreaks; additional effort is still required to define specific genetic markers permitting direct surveillance, accurate and reliable diagnosis, tracking and studying of the vector and host associations of contemporary isolates. The potential of R. akari to cross into other vector species emphasizes the necessity for detection of outbreaks of the disease in new regions of the world and in novel ecological settings. We describe existing gaps and limitations in our current understanding of the pathogenesis of rickettsialpox, the epidemiology of this disease and the genetic diversity of R. akari. We propose research priorities for what is needed to improve our understanding of this neglected rickettsial disease and its etiologic agent.

About the authors

M. E. Eremeeva

Georgia Southern University

Author for correspondence.
Email: meremeeva@georgiasouthern.edu

Eremeeva Marina E., PhD, MD (Bioсhemistry), Professor, Laboratory Director, Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health

PO Box 8015, Statesboro, GA 30458

United States

K. Muniz-Rodriguez

Georgia Southern University

Email: km11200@georgiasouthern.edu

Muniz-Rodriguez Kamalich, MPH, Graduate Student


United States


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