Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), caused by the etiological agent Rickettsia rickettsii, is the most severe and frequently reported rickettsial illness in the United States, and is commonly diagnosed throughout the southeast. With the discoveries of Rickettsia parkeri and other spotted fever group rickettsiae (SFGR) in ticks, it remains inconclusive if the cases reported as RMSF are truly caused by R. rickettsii or other SFGR. Arkansas reports one of the highest incidence rates of RMSF in the country; consequently, to identify the rickettsiae in Arkansas, 1,731 ticks, 250 white-tailed deer, and 189 canines were screened by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for the rickettsial genes gltA, rompB, and ompA. None of the white-tailed deer were positive, while two of the canines (1.1%) and 502 (29.0%) of the ticks were PCR positive. Five different tick species were PCR positive: 244 (37%) Amblyomma americanum L., 130 (38%) Ixodes scapularis Say, 65 (39%) Amblyomma maculatum (Koch), 30 (9%) Rhipicephalus sanguineus Latreille, 7 (4%) Dermacentor variabilis Say, and 26 (44%) unidentified Amblyomma ticks. None of the sequenced products were homologous to R. rickettsii. The most common Rickettsia via rompB amplification was Rickettsia montanensis and nonpathogenic Candidatus Rickettsia amblyommii, whereas with ompA amplification the most common Rickettsia was Ca. R. amblyommii. Many tick specimens collected in northwest Arkansas were PCR positive and these were commonly A. americanum harboring Ca. R. amblyommii, a currently nonpathogenic Rickettsia. Data reported here indicate that pathogenic R. rickettsii was absent from these ticks and suggest by extension that other SFGR are likely the causative agents for Arkansas diagnosed RMSF cases.
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Vol. 52 • No. 3