Most human granulocytic ehrlichiosis (HGE) studies carried out in horses use needle inoculation of infected leucocytes or cell cultures. This route of inoculation does not accurately reflect natural infection of the tick-borne agent. To investigate whether tick transmission influences the course of granulocytic ehrlichiosis in the horse model, experimental transmission through infected laboratory-reared Ixodes scapularis ticks was attempted into two healthy horses. One additional horse served as negative control and was exposed to uninfected ticks. Eleven days after exposure to nymphal or adult ticks infected with Anaplasma phagocytophila (HGE agent) the two horses developed severe clinical and laboratory signs consistent with granulocytic ehrlichiosis. Bacteraemia was determined at various time points in the two horses by observation of morulae within neutrophils and by detection of A. phagocytophila genomic DNA by PCR of peripheral blood leucocytes. Further, both horses seroconverted. In contrast the control horse stayed uninfected. The results demonstrate that A. phagocytophila can be experimentally transmitted by infected nymphal and adult ticks and that the agent is able to produce a severe disease, similar to naturally occurring cases. Therefore, tick transmission is highly reproducible and can be successfully used in the equine animal model in order to study HGE.
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