Wildlife Disease and Zoonotics


Date of this Version



Published in JOURNAL OF CLINICAL MICROBIOLOGY, 0095-1137/99 Oct. 1999, p. 3323–3327


Dusky-footed wood rats (Neotoma fuscipes) and Peromyscus sp. mice (P. maniculatus and P. truei) were collected from one site in Placer County, one site in Santa Cruz County, and two sites in Sonoma County in northern California. Serum or plasma samples from 260 rodents were tested for antibodies to the agent of human granulocytic ehrlichiosis. Of these, samples from 25 wood rats (34% of those tested) and 10 (8%) Peromyscus sp. mice were found to be seropositive, but only those from one site. PCR assays targeting the groESL heat shock operon were conducted on all seropositive specimens and a subset of seronegative blood specimens. Ehrlichial DNA was identified in 17 (68%) of the 25 seropositive wood rat blood samples and in 1 of the 10 (10%) Peromyscus sp. specimens. None of 40 seronegative blood samples was PCR positive. Both seropositive and PCR-positive animals were collected during each trapping period. One male tick out of 84 Ixodes pacificus adults collected was PCR positive; samples of Dermacentor occidentalis nymphs and adults were negative. Nucleotide sequences of amplicons from three wood rat blood specimens and from the single PCR-positive tick differed by one and two bases, respectively, from a sequence previously obtained from Ehrlichia equi. At one site in Sonoma County, wood rats had a concurrent high prevalence of seropositivity and PCR positivity, while other sigmodontine rodents collected at the site were only occasionally infected. We suggest that dusky-footed wood rats serve as reservoirs of granulocytic ehrlichial agents in certain areas of northern California. The tick species involved in the transmission of granulocytic ehrlichiae among wood rats remains unknown.