Ecological havoc, the rise of white-tailed deer, and the emergence of Amblyomma americanum-associated zoonoses in the United States

Curr Top Microbiol Immunol. 2007:315:289-324. doi: 10.1007/978-3-540-70962-6_12.


Two infectious diseases, and one presumably infectious disease, each vectored by or associated with the bite of the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum), were identified and characterized by clinicians and scientists in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s. These three conditions-human monocytic (or monocytotropic) ehrlichiosis (HME), Ehrlichia ewingii ehrlichiosis, and southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI)-undoubtedly existed in the United States prior to this time. However, the near-simultaneous recognition of these diseases is remarkable and suggests the involvement of a unifying process that thrust multiple pathogens into the sphere of human recognition. Previous works by other investigators have emphasized the pivotal role of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in the emergence of Lyme disease, human babesiosis, and human granulocytic anaplasmosis. Because whitetails serve as a keystone host for all stages of lone star ticks, and an important reservoir host for Ehrlichia chaffeensis, E. ewingii, and Borrelia lonestari, the near-exponential growth of white-tailed deer populations that occurred in the eastern United States during the twentieth century is likely to have dramatically affected the frequency and distribution of A. americanum-associated zoonoses. This chapter describes the natural histories of the pathogens definitively or putatively associated with HME, E. ewingii ehrlichiosis, and STARI; the role of white-tailed deer as hosts to lone star ticks and the agents of these diseases; and the cascade of ecologic disturbances to the landscape of the United States that have occurred during the last 200 years that provided critical leverage in the proliferation of white-tailed deer, and ultimately resulted in the emergence of these diseases in human populations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arachnid Vectors / microbiology*
  • Borrelia Infections / epidemiology
  • Borrelia Infections / transmission*
  • Borrelia Infections / veterinary
  • Deer* / microbiology
  • Deer* / parasitology
  • Disease Reservoirs / veterinary
  • Ehrlichiosis / epidemiology
  • Ehrlichiosis / transmission*
  • Ehrlichiosis / veterinary
  • Humans
  • Ticks / microbiology*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Zoonoses*