Tick-borne rickettsiae are undergoing epidemiological changes in the eastern United States while human encounters with lone star ticks (Amblyomma americanum L.) have increased substantially. We used real-time polymerase chain reaction assays to test for three species of spotted fever group rickettsiae (SFGR) (Rickettsiales: Rickettsiaceae) in 1,858 nymphal A. americanum collected from Monmouth County, New Jersey, a coastal county with endemic Lyme disease and established tick surveillance. Out of the 1,858 tested, 465 (25.0%) were infected with Rickettsia amblyommatis Karpathy, a species of undetermined pathogenicity found frequently in A. americanum, while 1/1,858 (0.05%) contained Rickettsia rickettsii Brumpt, the agent of Rocky Mountain spotted fever. No ticks tested positive for mildly pathogenic Rickettsia parkeri Lackman, and no ticks were co-infected with multiple Rickettsia spp. Our results indicate that A. americanum could be involved in transmission of R. rickettsii to humans in New Jersey, albeit rarely. The much higher rates of R. amblyommatis infection are consistent with hypotheses that human sera reacting to this species could contribute to reports of mild SFGR cases.
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Vol. 57 • No. 3