Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii, was recognized as endemic in Arizona, US after a 2002 outbreak and has since been a public health concern. The brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus sensu lato) is the principal vector of this pathogen in Arizona. Domesticated dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) are the tick’s main host, so free-roaming dogs in peridomestic areas have been named the primary risk factor for human cases of RMSF. However, the sudden emergence and long-distance dispersal of the pathogen have not been adequately explained, and one possible mechanism could include wildlife. Coyotes (Canis latrans) are wide ranging in Arizona and closely related to dogs, so it is possible that brown dog ticks parasitize coyotes and infect them. Although R. rickettsii is the most severe spotted fever group (SFG) rickettsial pathogen in humans, others occur in Arizona, and antibodies raised against them are cross-reactive, so we more-broadly hypothesized that coyotes in Arizona are exposed to SFG rickettsiae. We collected coyote tissues in spring 2016 and 2017. We tested sera for antibodies to R. rickettsii and found 9% (8/94) of samples were antibody-positive with titers of ≥256. Subsequent quantitative PCR analyses of skin showed evidence for Rickettsia spp. in 2.9% (4/138) of samples. These data suggest that coyotes have a role in the maintenance of SFG rickettsiae in Arizona. Further investigation is warranted to reveal which specific pathogen-vector complexes act on coyotes in the region and whether they represent a risk to human health.
- Canis latrans
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- Spotted fever group Rickettsia
- Zoonotic diseases
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics