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Fatal Brazilian Spotted Fever Associated with Dogs and Amblyomma aureolatum Ticks, Brazil, 2013.

The bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii is the etiologic agent of Rocky Mountain spotted fever; in Brazil, this illness is called Brazilian spotted fever and is a national notifiable tickborne disease with fatality rates [approximately equal to]50% (1,2). Since the 1920s, the vector of R. rickettsii in the southern Sao Paulo metropolitan area has been the Amblyomma aureolatum tick (3,4). In this area, free-roaming domestic dogs (major hosts of A. aureolatum ticks) are presumed to play a role in carrying R. rickettsii-infected ticks from forest fragments (A. aureolatum tick habitat) to household interiors (4,5). Dogs could thus be associated with the higher incidence of Brazilian spotted fever in women and children, who usually spend more time indoors, in close contact with dogs (5).

In November 2013, a 12-year-old boy died after 8 days of an acute febrile illness. He lived in the neighborhood of Sete Praias, near Atlantic forest remnants in the southern Sao Paulo metropolitan area. On day 3 of illness, he was admitted to the Nasf-Unifesp Hospital in the city of Sao Paulo with fever (temperature 39.5[degrees]C), headache, nausea, asthenia, and abdominal rash. The patient's mother informed the physician that her son had been bitten by a tick on his nape [approximately equal to]1 week before disease onset; the tick was removed and discarded. The boy was medicated with dipyrone and sent home. On day 6, the patient was returned to the hospital, unconscious, with jaundice and seizures. He was transferred to the intensive care unit; meningitis was suspected. The next day, his condition worsened, and when hematologic and biochemical examinations indicated thrombocytopenia and hepatic alterations, meningitis was ruled out. A blood serum sample was submitted for leptospirosis and spotted fever testing by serologic and molecular analysis, respectively. Results for leptospirosis were negative. The patient died on day 8 of illness. While the body was being prepared for the funeral, a tick was found attached behind the ear and was sent to the laboratory of the Prefeitura de Sao Paulo, where it was identified as an A. aureolatum unengorged female.

DNA extracted from the serum sample by use of PureLink Viral RNA/DNA Mini Kit (Invitrogen, https://www. was positive by Taqman real-time PCR for the genus Rickettsia (6). We therefore next performed 2 conventional PCRs, 1 targeting a 401-bp fragment of the rickettsial gltA gene (7) and the other targeting a 631-bp fragment of the rickettsial ompA gene (8). Both yielded amplicons that, after DNA sequencing, had sequences 100% identical to R. rickettsii (GenBank accession no. CP003305) by BLAST analyses (

Immediately after the patient's death, the hospital notified the Sao Paulo Board of Health of this case, and we performed an epidemiologic investigation. In the patient's household, we collected blood samples from 3 dogs and 11 cats, all adults, born and raised in the area, with free access to surrounding forests and the dwelling interior. Direct contact between the patient and his pets was reportedly common. Serum from the dogs and cats was tested for R. rickettsii IgG by immunofluorescence assay, as described (3). Seroreactivity was detected in the 3 dogs (endpoint titers 512, 2,048, and 4,096) and 3 of the cats (titers 64, 64, and 512).

During animal sampling, we collected 13 ticks from 1 dog and 1 tick from 1 cat; all ticks were A. aureolatum adults. These 14 ticks, plus the 1 from the patient's body, were submitted for DNA extraction (5) and tested by the same 2 conventional PCRs. Two ticks (1 from the dog and the 1 from the patient) yielded gltA and ompA amplicons, which generated DNA sequences 100% identical to R. rickettsii (CP003305).

This fatal case of Brazilian spotted fever was epidemiologically associated with A. aureolatum ticks and domestic dogs. Because the patient had no recent history of traveling outside his neighborhood, we infer that he acquired the infection in his neighborhood, where R. rickettsii was circulating between ticks and his dogs. Although the A. aureolatum tick collected postmortem from the patient harbored R. rickettsii, we cannot be sure that this particular tick was the primary vector of the bacterium to the patient because the tick would certainly have been exposed to an infected blood meal during the last days of the patient's life. We can, however, confirm that the patient was exposed in his neighborhood to A. aureolatum ticks, competent vectors of R. rickettsii (5). Because fed adult A. aureolatum ticks need only 10 minutes of attachment to transmit R. rickettsii to hosts (5), the likelihood of such transmission for this patient was high, considering his close contact with his pets. Had the physicians suspected Brazilian spotted fever when the boy was first admitted to the hospital on day 3 of febrile illness, treatment with appropriate antimicrobial drugs might have prevented his death (9).

This work was performed at the University of Sao Paulo, Prefeitura de Sao Paulo, and Adolfo Lutz Institute, Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil.

Dr. Savani is an epidemiologist at the Sao Paulo City Board of Health. Her research interests are epidemiology and control of urban zoonoses.


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(2.) de Oliveira SV, Guimaraes JN, Reckziegel GC, Neves BM, Araujo-Vilges KM, Fonseca LX, et al. An update on the epidemiological situation of spotted fever in Brazil. J Venom Anim Toxins Incl Trop Dis. 2016;22:22.4

(3.) Ogrzewalska M, Saraiva DG, Moraes-Filho J, Martins TF, Costa FB, Pinter A, et al. Epidemiology of Brazilian spotted fever in the Atlantic Forest, state of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Parasitology. 2012;139:1283-300.

(4.) Scinachi CA, Takeda GACG, Mucci LF, Pinter A. Association of the occurrence of Brazilian spotted fever and Atlantic rain forest fragmentation in the Sao Paulo metropolitan region, Brazil. Acta Trop. 2017;166:225-33.

(5.) Saraiva DG, Soares HS, Soares JF, Labruna MB. Feeding period required by Amblyomma aureolatum ticks for transmission of Rickettsia rickettsii to vertebrate hosts. Emerg Infect Dis. 2014;20:1504-10. PubMed

(6.) dos Santos FC, do Nascimento EM, Katz G, Angerami RN, Colombo S, de Souza ER, et al. Brazilian spotted fever: real-time PCR for diagnosis of fatal cases. Ticks Tick Borne Dis. 2012;3:312-4.

(7.) Labruna MB, Whitworth T, Horta MC, Bouyer DH, McBride JW, Pinter A, et al. Rickettsia species infecting Amblyomma cooperi ticks from an area in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil, where Brazilian spotted fever is endemic. J Clin Microbiol. 2004;42:90-8.

(8.) Eremeeva ME, Bosserman EA, Demma LJ, Zambrano ML, Blau DM, Dasch GA. Isolation and identification of Rickettsia massiliae from Rhipicephalus sanguineus ticks collected in Arizona. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2006;72:5569-77.

(9.) Vilges de Oliveira S, Nogueira Angerami R. Timeliness in the notification of spotted fever in Brazil: evaluating compulsory reporting strategies and digital disease detection. Int J Infect Dis. 2018;72:16-8.

Address for correspondence: Marcelo B. Labruna, Universidade de Sao Paulo, Departamento de Medicina Veterinaria Preventiva e Saude Animal, Faculdade de Medicina Veterinaria e Zootecnia, Av. Prof. Orlando Marques de Paiva, 87 Cidade Universitaria, Sao Paulo, SP 05508-270, Brazil; email:

Author affiliations: Prefeitura de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil (E.S.M.M. Savani, E.A. Silva, A.C.F. Couto, M. Gutjahr, J.N.M.O. Alves); Universidade de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo (F.B. Costa, M.B. Labruna); Instituto Adolfo Lutz, Sao Paulo (F.C.P. Santos)

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Article Details
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Author:Savani, Elisa S.M.M.; Costa, Francisco B.; Silva, Elisabete A.; Couto, Ana C.F.; Gutjahr, Melanie; A
Publication:Emerging Infectious Diseases
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Geographic Code:3BRAZ
Date:Dec 1, 2019
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