Urban zoonoses caused by Bartonella, Coxiella, Ehrlichia, and Rickettsia species

Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis. Summer 2001;1(2):91-118. doi: 10.1089/153036601316977714.


The last half of the 20th Century witnessed an increase in the occurrence and recognition of urban zoonoses caused by members of the genera Bartonella, Coxiella, Ehrlichia, and Rickettsia, all traditionally considered to be members of the family Rickettsiaceae. In recent years, new human pathogens (Bartonella elizabethae, Bartonella henselae, and Rickettsia felis) have been recognized in urban environments. Other newly recognized pathogens (Ehrlichia chaffeensis and Ehrlichia phagocytophila in the United States) have sylvan zoonotic cycles but are present in urban areas because their vertebrate hosts and associated ectoparasitic arthropod vectors are able to survive in cities. Still other agents, which were primarily of historical importance (Bartonella quintana) or have not traditionally been associated with urban environments (Rickettsia rickettsii), have been recognized as causes of human disease in urban areas. Some diseases that have traditionally been associated with urban environments, such as rickettsialpox (caused by Rickettsia akari) and murine typhus (caused by Rickettsia typhi), still occur in large cities at low or undetermined frequencies and often go undetected, despite the availability of effective measures to diagnose and control them. In addition, alternate transmission cycles have been discovered for Coxiella burnetii, Rickettsia prowazekii, and R. typhi that differ substantially from their established, classic cycles, indicating that the epidemiology of these agents is more complex than originally thought and may be changing. Factors leading to an increase in the incidence of illnesses caused by these bacteria in urban areas include societal changes as well as intrinsic components of the natural history of these organisms that favor their survival in cities. Transovarial and transstadial transmission of many of the agents in their arthropod hosts contributes to the highly focal nature of many of the diseases they cause by allowing the pathogens to persist in areas during adverse times when vertebrate amplifying hosts may be scarce or absent. Domesticated animals (primarily cats, dogs, and livestock) or commensal rodents [primarily Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) and house mice (Mus musculus)] can serve as vertebrate amplifying hosts and bring these agents and their ectoparasitic arthropod vectors into direct association with humans and help maintain transmission cycles in densely populated urban areas. The reasons for the increase in these urban zoonoses are complex. Increasing population density worldwide, shifts in populations from rural areas to cities, increased domestic and international mobility, an increase in homelessness, the decline of inner-city neighborhoods, and an increase in the population of immunosuppressed individuals all contribute to the emergence and recognition of human diseases caused by these groups of agents. Due to the focal nature of infections in urban areas, control or prevention of these diseases is possible. Increased physician awareness and public health surveillance support will be required to detect and treat existing urban infections caused by these agents, to determine the disease burden caused by them, to design and implement control programs to combat and prevent their spread, and to recognize emerging or resurging infections caused by members of these genera as they occur.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bartonella / classification
  • Bartonella / physiology*
  • Coxiella / classification
  • Coxiella / physiology*
  • Disease Reservoirs / veterinary
  • Disease Vectors
  • Ehrlichia / classification
  • Ehrlichia / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Population Dynamics
  • Rats
  • Rickettsiaceae Infections / microbiology*
  • Rickettsiaceae Infections / prevention & control
  • Rickettsiaceae Infections / transmission
  • Urban Health*
  • Zoonoses / microbiology*
  • Zoonoses / transmission