We report 2 years of experience with rickettsial molecular diagnosis using real-time PCR at the French National Reference Center. All Rickettsia genomes available were compared to discover specific sequences to design new sets of primers and probes. The specificity was verified in silico and against a panel of 30 rickettsial species. Sensitivity was determined using 10-fold serial dilutions. Finally, primers and probes that were both specific and sensitive were routinely used for the diagnosis of rickettsial infections from clinical specimens. We retained sets of primers and probes to detect spotted fever group Rickettsia, typhus group Rickettsia,Rickettsia conorii,Rickettsia slovaca,Rickettsia africae and Rickettsia australis; 643 clinical samples were screened for the presence of Rickettsia DNA. Overall, 45 positive samples were detected, including 15 Rickettsia africae, nine R. conorii, five Rickettsia sibirica mongolitimonae, four R. slovaca, two R. australis, four Rickettsia massiliae, one Rickettsia honei, one Rickettsia typhi and eight Rickettsia sp. Positive samples were detected mainly from cutaneous biopsies and swabs (31/45). Widespread use of real-time PCR is inexpensive and reduces delay in the diagnosis of rickettsial infections. These real-time PCR assays could be implemented easily in laboratories that have molecular facilities and may be added to existing molecular tools as a point-of-care strategy.
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