Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Rd NE, Atlanta, GA 30329, United States. Electronic address: [Email]
Rickettsia parkeri is a recently recognized human pathogen transmitted in the southeastern United States by Amblyomma maculatum, the Gulf Coast tick. Since R. parkeri was conclusively identified as a human pathogen in 2004, over 40 cases of R. parkeri rickettsiosis have been identified in the United States, most of which occur in the southeastern states. During 2012-2014, five of these cases were identified by a single urgent care practice in Coweta County, a Georgia county within the Atlanta metropolitan area. To investigate the occurrence of R. parkeri-infected A. maculatum in the Atlanta metropolitan area, ticks were collected from 6 counties around the city of Atlanta and evaluated for infection with a Rickettsia species. A total of 263 questing adult A. maculatum were collected during 2015 and 2016. Of these, 93 (35%) were PCR-positive for DNA of R. parkeri and an additional 46 (17%) were PCR-positive for DNA of "Candidatus Rickettsia andeanae," a spotted fever group Rickettsia species of unknown pathogenicity. No co-infections of these two rickettsiae were detected; however four of the six counties sampled showed presence of both rickettsial organisms. The high frequency of R. parkeri in these tick populations indicates a potential risk for those living, working, or recreating in A. maculatum-infested habitats within these six counties in the Atlanta metropolitan area.