Dermacentor occidentalis Marx and Dermacentor variabilis (Say) commonly bite humans in California. These Dermacentor species may play a role in transmitting spotted fever group (SFG) rickettsiae to humans in many parts of the state where Dermacentor andersoni Stiles, a known vector for the etiologic agent of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Rickettsia rickettsii, is absent. However, the specific rickettsial agents present in these ticks and their current prevalence are poorly understood. In total, 365 D. occidentalis and 10 D. variabilis were collected by flagging vegetation at 16 sites in five counties of southern California. The presence of SFG rickettsial DNA in these ticks was detected with rOmpA and GltA gene polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays. The rickettsial species were identified by sequencing PCR amplicons. Of 365 D. occidentalis, 90 (24.7%) contained R. rhipicephali DNA, 28 (7.7%) contained DNA of unclassified genotype 364D, two (0.55%) contained R. bellii DNA, and one (0.3%) contained R. rickettsii DNA. Of 10 D. variabilis, four (40%) contained only R. rhipicephali. Four new genotypes of R. rhipicephali were discovered. For the first time, we detected R. rickettsii in D. occidentalis. Our study provides the first molecular data on the prevalence and species identification of SFG rickettsiae circulating in populations of these California ticks. Because neither D. variabilis nor R. rickettsii were abundant, 364D should be evaluated further as a potential cause of human SFG rickettsioses in southern California.
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