Investigating the adult ixodid tick populations and their associated Anaplasma, Ehrlichia, and Rickettsia bacteria at a Rocky Mountain spotted fever hotspot in western Tennessee
Trout Fryxell, R. T., B. M. Hendricks, K. Pompo, S. E. Mays, D. J. Paulsen, D. Operario, and A. E. Houston.  2017.  Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, 17(8):527-538.

Abstract:
Ehrlichiosis and rickettsiosis are two common bacterial tick-borne diseases in the southeastern United States. Ehrlichiosis is caused by ehrlichiae transmitted by Amblyomma americanum and rickettsiosis is caused by rickettsiae transmitted by Amblyomma maculatum and Dermacentor variabilis. These ticks are common and have overlapping distributions in the region. The objective of this study was to identify Anaplasma, Ehrlichia, and Rickettsia species associated with questing ticks in a Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) hotspot, and identify habitats, time periods, and collection methods for collecting questing-infected ticks. Using vegetation drags and CO2-baited traps, ticks were collected six times (May–September 2012) from 100 sites (upland deciduous, bottomland deciduous, grassland, and coniferous habitats) in western Tennessee. Adult collections were screened for Anaplasma and Ehrlichia (simultaneous polymerase chain reaction [PCR]) and Rickettsia using genus-specific PCRs, and resulting positive amplicons were sequenced. Anaplasma and Ehrlichia were only identified within A. americanum (Ehrlichia ewingii, Ehrlichia chaffeensis, Panola Mountain Ehrlichia, and Anaplasma odocoilei sp. nov.); more Ehrlichia-infected A. americanum were collected at the end of June regardless of habitat and collection method. Rickettsia was identified in three tick species; “Candidatus Rickettsia amblyommii” from A. americanum, R. parkeri and R. andeanae from A. maculatum, and R. montanensis ( = montana) from D. variabilis. Overall, significantly more Rickettsia-infected ticks were identified as A. americanum and A. maculatum compared to D. variabilis; more infected-ticks were collected from sites May–July and with dragging. In this study, we report in the Tennessee RMSF hotspot the following: (1) Anaplasma and Ehrlichia are only found in A. americanum, (2) each tick species has its own Rickettsia species, (3) a majority of questing-infected ticks are collected May–July, (4) A. americanum and A. maculatum harbor pathogenic bacteria in western Tennessee, and (5) R. rickettsii remains unidentified.