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Volume 20, Number 8—August 2014


Isolation of Rickettsia typhi from Human, Mexico

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EID Zavala-Castro JE, Dzul-Rosado KR, Peniche-Lara G, Tello-Martín R, Zavala-Velázquez JE. Isolation of Rickettsia typhi from Human, Mexico. Emerg Infect Dis. 2014;20(8):1411-1412.
AMA Zavala-Castro JE, Dzul-Rosado KR, Peniche-Lara G, et al. Isolation of Rickettsia typhi from Human, Mexico. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2014;20(8):1411-1412. doi:10.3201/eid2008.130095.
APA Zavala-Castro, J. E., Dzul-Rosado, K. R., Peniche-Lara, G., Tello-Martín, R., & Zavala-Velázquez, J. E. (2014). Isolation of Rickettsia typhi from Human, Mexico. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 20(8), 1411-1412.

To the Editor: Murine typhus is a febrile illness caused by Rickettsia typhi. The clinical manifestations are nonspecific, and the signs and symptoms resemble those of several other febrile illnesses. Murine typhus can be a self-limiting infection; however, it should be diagnosed and treated because complications and even death can result (1). In Mexico, particularly in Yucatan State, cases of murine typhus in humans and high prevalence of antibodies in healthy blood donors have been reported (2,3). In 2012, we isolated R. typhi from a human patient in southeastern Mexico by using a simple and effective method, an adaptation of the centrifugation shell vial method to cell culture plates.

The patient, a 23-year-old man from Dzibzantun (21°15′00″N, 89°03′00″W), in the northeastern part of Yucatan State, was referred for possible diagnosis of rickettsial infection. He had a low-grade fever (37.6°C) and a maculopapular rash on the thorax and upper and lower extremities. The patient reported having cats in the house, but no fleas or ticks were observed. Clinical laboratory findings were within reference ranges. Test results were negative for dengue virus, but the Weil-Felix (Proteus OX19) test result was positive (titer 1:164). Single-step PCR amplification was performed by using genus-specific primers for the 17-kDa lipoprotein and the citrate synthase gene (gltA), as described previously, to obtain amplicons of 434 bp and 380–385 bp (4). PCR was positive for R. typhi, and 100 mg of oral doxycycline 2 times per day for 7 days was prescribed; the rash cleared.

We subjected 5 mL of blood to centrifugation for 1 hour at 1,000 rpm and then stored the plasma at −80°C. Blood samples from other patients were used as controls. A total of 50,000 Vero cells were grown in 8 central wells of a 24-well cell culture cluster (Corning Incorporated, Corning, NY, USA) with minimal essential medium (MEM; Biowest, Nuaillé, France) supplemented with 10% fetal bovine serum (Biowest) and incubated at 37°C with 5% CO2 for 48 hours to obtain 95% confluence. We then thawed 700 μL of the plasma in a 37°C water bath. The MEM was discarded, and the wells were refilled with 250 μL each of a mixture of the plasma and fresh medium at a 1:3 ratio. The plaque was covered with parafilm and centrifuged at 700 g for 60 minutes at 22°C. The supernatant was discarded and replaced with 1 mL of MEM supplemented with 5% fetal bovine serum, 100 U penicillin, 100 μg streptomycin, and 250 ng amphotericin B (Sigma Aldrich, St. Louis, MO, USA) and incubated at 33°C with 5% CO2.

On day 3 after sample inoculation, the antimicrobial drug–containing medium was removed and replaced with MEM without antimicrobial drug and supplemented with 5% fetal calf serum (HyClone Laboratories, Inc., South Logan, UT, USA). Medium was changed every 3 days until day 15. A cell sample from each well was tested for infection at days 9 and 15 by using Gimenez stain and PCR with 17 kDa and gltA primers.

Gimenez staining on day 15 yielded numerous red-stained bacteria in the cytoplasm of Vero cells in the 8 wells used. A single scraping of the cells from the positive wells was inoculated onto confluent layers of Vero cells, which enabled establishment of the isolate.

Three PCR amplicons of the 17kDa– and gltA–specific primers (46) from positive wells were fully sequenced. After removing primer sequences, we compared amplicon sequences by conducting a gapped BLAST 2.0 ( search of the GenBank database; the 17-kDa (accession no. JX198507) and gltA (accession no. KC469611) gene fragment sequences showed 100% identity with R. typhi strain Wilmington (accession no. AE017197.1).

Murine typhus has been reemerging in southeastern Mexico for the past 6 years (3,7). Active epidemiologic surveillance led to early detection of human cases and opportune treatment, thereby decreasing the rate of severe illness. However, the prevalent social and cultural conditions in small villages, with close contact with domestic, peridomestic, and wild animals, facilitate the transmission of this fleaborne rickettsiosis; human infections, such as the case presented here, still occur.

We replaced shell vials with cell culture plates and isolated rickettsiae from a biological sample from a patient with acute murine typhus. The method is as simple as the shell vial centrifugation technique and is highly sensitive and easy to perform, making it an excellent choice for rickettsiae isolation when shell vials are not available.

In the United States, isolation of R. typhi from a human was last reported >50 years ago (8). The case reported here reinforces the need to extend surveillance to small towns and villages in Yucatan State. It also shows that a shell vial alternative method for R. typhi isolation is simple and effective.


We thank the members of the Red Iberoamericana para la Investigación y Control de las Enfermedades Rickettsiales for providing useful information for the preparation of this manuscript.

We dedicate this article to the memory of Jorge Zavala Velázquez, who pioneered Rickettsia research in Mexico and Latin America.

This research was supported by grants from the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologia (CB-2008-1-99890) to J.E.Z.-C. and facilitated by the Ciencia y Tecnologia para el Desarrollo.

Jorge E. Zavala-CastroComments to Author , Karla R. Dzul-Rosado, Gaspar Peniche-Lara, Raúl Tello-Martín, and Jorge E. Zavala-Velázquez

Author affiliations: Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Mérida, México


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Cite This Article

DOI: 10.3201/eid2008.130095

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Table of Contents – Volume 20, Number 8—August 2014


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Jorge E. Zavala-Castro, Centro de Investigaciones Regionales Dr. Hideyo Noguchi, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Av Itzaés no. 490 x Calle 59 Colonia Centro, Mérida, Yucatán 97000, México

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