Epidemiology of rickettsial diseases

D. H. Walker, D. B. Fishbein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


Rickettsial diseases have a diversity of epidemiologic characteristics reflective of the variety of ecologic situations in which the obligate intracellular bacteria are transmitted to humans. For the spotted fever group (SFG) rickettsiae, Rickettsia typhi. R. tsutsugamushi, Coxiella burnetii, and the human ehrlichial agent, humans are a dead-end host who plays no role in the maintenance of the organism in nature. All rickettsioses exist as zoonoses. Moreover, all rickettsiae are found in infected arthopods, which generally serve as the natural hosts and can transmit the infection to the next generation of ticks, mites, chiggers, or fleas. From our anthropocentric viewpoint, Q fever aerosol infection from parturient animals and Brill-Zinsser disease ignited epidemics of louse-borne epidemic typhus are exceptions. However, silent cycles of C. burnetii in ticks and R. prowazekii in the flying squirrel flea may have maintained these agents in transovarial or enzootic cycles for eons before humans and their domestic animals arrived on the scene. Thus, the epidemiology of rickettsial diseases must be recognized as an unfortunate aberration of the rickettsial economy. Several excellent reviews of rickettsial ecology contain a wealth of useful information (2, 8, 55, 70, 84).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-245
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1991


  • Human ehrlichiosis
  • Q fever
  • Rickettsial spotted fevers
  • Scrub typhus
  • Typhus fevers
  • Zoonosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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