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Evidence for horizontal routes of transmission for Rickettsia felis has come from detection of R. felis infection in vertebrates and multiple blood-feeding arthropods; however, infection of cat fleas, Ctenocephalides felis, during blood feeding has not been demonstrated. In this study, the ability of cat fleas to acquire R. felis through an infectious blood meal with subsequent vertical transmission was examined. Utilizing an artificial feeding system, Rickettsia-naive fleas were exposed to R. felis-infected blood meals and monitored for subsequent infection at weekly intervals for 4 weeks. At 7 days postexposure (dpe) ∼52% of fleas successfully acquired rickettsiae and R. felis DNA; rickettsial transcript and DNA was detected in cat flea feces. Quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction determined that both the R. felis infection load and R. felis infection density was significantly greater in fleas assessed at later time points. Although a persistent R. felis infection was detected in adult fleas, R. felis infection was not observed in F1 progeny. This study demonstrates that cat fleas are able to acquire R. felis infection from an infectious blood meal and will serve as a model to examine R. felis transmission between arthropod and vertebrate hosts. © 2011, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

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Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases

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