BACKGROUND : Tick-borne rickettsial pathogens are emerging worldwide and pose an increased health risk to both
humans and animals. A plethora of rickettsial species has been identified in ticks recovered from human and animal
patients. However, the detection of rickettsial DNA in ticks does not necessarily mean that these ticks can act as
vectors for these pathogens. Here, we used artificial feeding of ticks to confirm transmission of Rickettsia massiliae
and Rickettsia raoultii by Rhipicephalus sanguineus (sensu lato) and Dermacentor reticulatus ticks, respectively. The
speed of transmission was also determined.
METHODS : An artificial feeding system based on silicone membranes were used to feed adult R. sanguineus (s.l.)
and D. reticulatus ticks. Blood samples from in vitro feeding units were analysed for the presence of rickettsial
DNA using PCR and reverse line blot hybridisation.
RESULTS : The attachment rate of R. sanguineus (s.l.) ticks were 40.4% at 8 h post-application, increasing to 70.
2% at 72 h. Rickettsia massiliae was detected in blood samples collected 8 h after the R. sanguineus (s.l.) ticks
were placed into the in vitro feeding units. D. reticulatus ticks were pre-fed on sheep and subsequently transferred to
the in vitro feeding system. The attachment rate was 29.1 % at 24 h post-application, increasing to 43.6 % at 96 h.
Rickettsia raoultii was detected in blood collected 24 h after D. reticulatus was placed into the feeding units.
CONCLUSIONS : Rhipicephalus sanguineus (s.l.) and D. reticulatus ticks are vectors of R. massiliae and R. raoultii, respectively.
The transmission of R. massiliae as early as 8 h after tick attachment emphasises the importance of removing ticks as
soon as possible to minimise transmission. This study highlights the relevance of in vitro feeding systems to provide
insight into the vectorial capacity of ticks and the dynamics of tick-borne pathogen transmission.