The ability of the African tortoise tick, Amblyomma marmoreum, to acquire and transmit Cowdria ruminantium infection was investigated experimentally with transmission trials and with a C. ruminantium-specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR) detection assay. Laboratory-reared A. marmoreum larvae and nymphs were fed on small ruminants with clinical heartwater. After molting, the resultant nymphs were fed on Cowdria ruminantium-naive sheep (n = 3), and the adults were ground and inoculated intravenously into sheep (n = 5). Fatal heartwater developed in the 5 recipient animals, demonstrating larvae–nymph transmission and nymph–adult acquisition of infection. Cowdria ruminantium infection was also detected in adult A. marmoreum by PCR analysis, although at lower frequency (10%) than in Amblyomma hebraeum ticks (43%), the major vector of C. ruminantium in southern Africa, which had been fed simultaneously on the infected animals (P < 0.0001). Amblyomma marmoreum, therefore, can be an effective vector of C. ruminantium. The potential role of this species in heartwater epidemiology and in the spread of the disease to new areas is highlighted by these results and by the fact that immature stages of this tick feed readily on domestic and wild animals susceptible to C. ruminantium.
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