Skip directly to search Skip directly to A to Z list Skip directly to page options Skip directly to site content

Volume 15, Number 4—April 2009


Spotted Fever Group Rickettsia sp. Closely Related to R. japonica, Thailand

Suggested citation for this article

To the Editor: In response to a recent report that suggested human infection with Rickettsia japonica in northeastern Thailand (1), we phylogenetically reexamined spotted fever group rickettsiae (SFGR) from Thailand. The organism had been isolated from a male Haemaphysalis hystricis tick found on Mt. Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, in December 2001. The strain was designated TCM1 and was not distinguishable from R. japonica by indirect immunoperoxidase stain using monoclonal antibody (2).


Thumbnail of Phylogenetic analysis based on ompA gene (A) and rickettsial genus–specific 17-kDa antigen gene (B). Sequences were aligned by using the ClustalW software package (, and neighbor-joining phylogenetic tree construction and bootstrap analysis were conducted according to the Kimura 2-parameter method ( Pairwise alignments were performed with an open-gap penalty of 10, a gap extension penalty of 0.5, and a gap distance of 8.

Figure. Phylogenetic analysis based on ompA gene (A) and rickettsial genus–specific 17-kDa antigen gene (B). Sequences were aligned by using the ClustalW software package (, and neighbor-joining phylogenetic tree construction and...

After propagating strain TCM1 in L-929 cell culture, we extracted DNA by using a Wizard Genomic DNA Purification Kit (Promega, Madison, WI, USA). We subjected the DNA to sequencing that targeted a 491-bp fragment of rickettsial outer membrane protein A (ompA), a 394-bp fragment of the rickettsial genus–specific 17-kDa antigen gene, and a 1,250-bp fragment of citrate synthase gene (gltA). Direct sequencing of amplicons was performed as previously described (3). Phylogenetic analyses based on ompA indicated that strain TCM1 was closely related to and clustered within the same clade as R. japonica strain YH (98.4% identity) (Figure, panel A). Also, a 17-kDa antigen gene obtained from strain TCM1 showed 99.5% identity to the corresponding gene of R. japonica (Figure, panel B). Our phylogenetic analysis with ompA and 17-kDa antigen gene showed that strain TCM1 was closely related to R. japonica but distinguished from Rickettsia sp. PMK94 (which was closely related to R. heilongjiangensis from northeastern China) (3); another SFGR agent, R. honei from Ixodes granulatus ticks in Thailand (4), was apparently different from strain TCM1 (Figure). Phylogenetic analyses based on gltA (99.4%–99.6% identity) showed that strain TCM1 is also closely related to R. japonica and Rickettsia sp. strain PMK94 (data not shown). Thus, we describe the R. japonica group in Thailand. DNA sequences of strain TCM1 were determined and deposited in GenBank/EMBL/DDBJ under the following accession nos.: ompA, AB359459; 17-kDa antigen, AB359457; gltA, AB359458.

R. japonica is the specific pathogen of Japanese spotted fever, which has been found mainly in southwestern Japan (5). The present strain, closely related to R. japonica, is likely to have been isolated from H. hystricis in Thailand because R. japonica frequently has been isolated, or detected by PCR, from the same tick species in Japan (6). Such tick species–specificity of SFGR should be considered when speculating on any geopathologic relationships of rickettsioses among different SFGR-endemic areas. Previous reports on spotted fever–positive results of human serosurveys (7,8) and on a clinical case (9) in northern Thailand may provide epidemiologic background. In Asia, multiple species of rickettsiea (e.g., R. japonica, R. heilongjiangensis, R. honei) are the causative agents of spotted fever rickettsioses, so the agent closely related to R. japonica could cause spotted fever in Thailand. Additionally, R. japonica has been found in Korea (10), and our current study indicates that R. japonica and its genetic variants are widely distributed in Far Eastern countries, including Japan (Grant-in-Aid for International Cooperative Research, unpub. data). Therefore, the epidemiology and genetic variation of SFGR throughout Asia should be examined by molecular studies.

Nobuhiro TakadaComments to Author , Hiromi Fujita, Hiroki Kawabata, Ichiro Takajo, Akiko Sakata, Ai Takano, and Udom Chaithong

Author affiliations: University of Fukui, Fukui, Japan (N. Takada); Ohara General Hospital, Fukushima, Japan (H. Fujita); National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Tokyo, Japan (H. Kawabata, S. Ando, A. Sakata, A. Takano); Faculty of Medicine, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai, Thailand (U. Chaithong)


This work was supported in part by Grant-in-Aid for International Cooperative Research (nos. 13576005 and 19406008) from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.


  1. Gaywee J, Sunyakumthorn P, Rodkvamtook W, Ruang-areerate T, Mason CJ, Sirisopana N. Human infection with Rickettsia sp. related to R. japonica, Thailand. Emerg Infect Dis. 2007;13:6713.PubMed
  2. Fujita H, Takada N, Chaithong U. Preliminary report of rickettsial strains of spotted fever group isolated from ticks of China, Nepal and Thailand. Annual Report of Ohara General Hospital. 2002;44:158.
  3. Zhang JZ, Fan MY, Wu YM, Fournier PE, Roux V, Raoult D. Genetic classification of “Rickettsia heilongjiangii” and “Rickettsia hulinii,” two Chinese spotted fever group rickettsiae. J Clin Microbiol. 2000;38:3498501.PubMed
  4. Kollars TM Jr, Tippayachai B, Bodhidatta D. Short report: Thai tick typhus, Rickettsia honei, and a unique Rickettsia detected in Ixodes granulates (Ixodidae: Acari) from Thailand. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2001;65:5357.PubMed
  5. Mahara F. Rickettsioses in Japan and the Far East. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2006;1078:6073. DOIPubMed
  6. Fujita H, Takada N. Diversity of genus Rickettsia detected from ticks in Japan. Acari and emerging/reemerging infectious diseases [in Japanese]. Tokyo: Zenkoku Noson Kyoiku Kyokai Publishing; 2007. p. 129–39.
  7. Takada N, Fujita H, Yano Y, Huang W-H, Khamboonruang C. Serosurveys of spotted fever and murine typhus in local residents of Taiwan and Thailand compared with Japan. Southeast Asian J Trop Med Public Health. 1993;24:3546.PubMed
  8. Parola P, Miller RS, McDaniel P, Telford SR, Rolain J-M, Wongsrichanalai C, Emerging rickettsioses of the Thai-Myanmar border. Emerg Infect Dis. 2003;9:5925.PubMed
  9. Sirisanthana T, Pinyopornpanit V, Sirisanthana V, Strickman D, Kelly DJ, Dasch GA. First cases of spotted fever group rickettsiosis in Thailand. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 1994;50:6826.PubMed
  10. Lee J-H, Park H-S, Jung K-D, Jang W-J, Koh S-E, Kang S-S, Identification of the spotted fever group rickettsiae detected from Haemaphysalis longicornis in Korea. Microbiol Immunol. 2003;47:3014.PubMed


Suggested citation for this article: Takada N, Fujita H, Kawabata H, Ando S, Sakata A, Takano A, et al. Spotted fever group Rickettsia sp. closely related to R. japonica, Thailand [letter]. Emerg Infect Dis [serial on the Internet]. 2009 Apr [date cited]. Available from

DOI: 10.3201/eid1504.071271

Related Links

Table of Contents – Volume 15, Number 4—April 2009


Please use the form below to submit correspondence to the authors or contact them at the following address:

Nobuhiro Takada, University of Fukui, Faculty of Medical Sciences 23, Matsuoka, Eiheiji Fukui 910-1193, Japan

character(s) remaining.

Comment submitted successfully, thank you for your feedback.