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Revista Brasileira de Parasitologia Veterinária

On-line version ISSN 1984-2961

Rev. Bras. Parasitol. Vet. vol.22 no.2 Jaboticabal Apr./June 2013  Epub June 25, 2013 

Full Article

Serosurvey for tick-borne diseases in dogs from the Eastern Amazon, Brazil

Pesquisa Sorológica por doenças transmitidas por carrapatos em cães da Amazônia oriental, Brasil

Mariana Granziera Spolidorio1 

Antonio Humberto Hamad Minervino1  2 

Samantha Yuri Oshiro Branco Valadas1 

Herbert Sousa Soares1 

Kedson Alessandri Lobo Neves2 

Marcelo Bahia Labruna1 

Múcio Flavio Barbosa Ribeiro3 

Solange Maria Gennari1  * 

1Departamento de Medicina Veterinária Preventiva e Saúde Animal, Faculdade de Medicina Veterinária e Zootecnia, Universidade de São Paulo – USP, São Paulo, SP, Brazil

2Instituto de Biodiversidade e Floresta, Universidade Federal do Oeste do Pará – UFOPA, Santarém, PA, Brazil

3Departamento de Parasitologia – ICB, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais – UFMG, Belo Horizonte, MG, Brazil


Canine ehrlichiosis and babesiosis are the most prevalent tick-borne diseases in Brazilian dogs. Few studies have focused attention in surveying tick-borne diseases in the Brazilian Amazon region. A total of 129 blood samples were collected from dogs living in the Brazilian eastern Amazon. Seventy-two samples from dogs from rural areas of 19 municipalities and 57 samples from urban stray dogs from Santarém municipality were collected. Serum samples were submitted to Indirect Immunofluorescence Assay (IFA) with antigens ofBabesia canis vogeli, Ehrlichia canis, and six Rickettsia species. The frequency of dogs containing anti-B. canis vogeli, anti-E. canis, and anti-Rickettsia spp. antibodies was 42.6%, 16.2%, and 31.7%, respectively. Anti-B. canis vogeli antibodies were detected in 59.6% of the urban dogs, and in 29.1% of the rural dogs (P < 0.05). For E. canis, seroprevalence was similar among urban (15.7%) and rural (16.6%) dogs. ForRickettsia spp., rural dogs presented significantly higher (P < 0.05) prevalence (40.3%) than urban animals (21.1%). This first study on tick-borne pathogens in dogs from the Brazilian eastern Amazon indicates that dogs are exposed to several agents, such asBabesia organisms, mostly in the urban area; Spotted Fever group Rickettsia organisms, mostly in the rural area; andEhrlichia organisms, in dogs from both areas studied.

Key words: Ehrlichia; Babesia; Rickettsia; dogs; Amazon; Pará state


Ehrliquiose canina e babesiose canina são as doenças parasitárias transmitidas por carrapatos de maior prevalência em cães do Brasil. Poucos estudos pesquisaram doenças transmitidas por carrapatos na região da Amazônia brasileira. Um total de 129 amostras de sangue foram colhidas de cães da Amazônia oriental brasileira. Setenta e dois cães eram de áreas rurais de 19 municípios do Estado do Pará, e 57 amostras foram colhidas de cães errantes vadios da área urbana do município de Santarém-PA. As amostras de soro foram submetidas ao ensaio de imunofluorescência indireta, com antígenos deBabesia canis vogeli, Ehrlichia canis, e seis espécies de Rickettsia. A frequência de cães com anticorpos anti-B. canis vogeli, anti-E. canis, e anti-Rickettsia spp. foi de 42,6%, 16,2% e 31,7%, respectivamente. Anticorpos anti-B. canis vogeli foram detectados em 59,6% dos cães urbanos, e em 29,1% dos cães rurais (P < 0.05). Para E. canis, a soroprevalência foi parecida entre os cães urbanos (15,7%) e rurais (16,6%). Para Rickettsia spp., cães rurais apresentaram prevalência (P < 0.05) significativamente maior (40,3%) do que os cães urbanos (21,1%). Esse primeiro estudo sobre agentes transmitidos por carrapatos entre cães da Amazônia oriental brasileira indica que estes animais estão expostos a vários agentes. Estes incluem Babesia principalmente na área urbana, Riquétsias do grupo da Febre Maculosa principalmente nas áreas rurais, e Erliquia em cães de ambas as áreas, rural e urbana.

Palavras-Chave: Ehrlichia; Babesia; Rickettsia; cães; Amazônia; Pará


Tick-borne diseases have been increasingly studied in Brazil, but there are still many unexplored places, especially in the Amazon region. Canine babesiosis is a tick-borne disease of domestic and wild canids characterized by fever, depression, and anaemia (KUTTLER, 1988). Previous parasitological and serological studies carried out in Brazil have shown that canine babesiosis due to Babesia canis is distributed among different states with rates of seropositivity ranging from 1.9 to 66.9% in Minas Gerais (RIBEIRO et al., 1990; RODRIGUES et al., 2002; BASTOS et al., 2004; SOARES et al., 2006), 35.7% in Paraná (TRAPP et al., 2006), 5.2% in Rio de Janeiro (O'DWYER et al., 2001), and 10.3% in São Paulo (DELL'PORTO et al., 1993). In addition, the disease was also reported in the state of Mato Grosso, where it was molecularly confirmed asB. canis vogeli (SPOLIDORIO et al., 2011).

Canine monocytic ehrlichiosis, caused by Ehrlichia canis, is the most important tick-borne disease of dogs in Brazil. Currently,Ehrlichia canis is the only Ehrlichia species that has been isolated in cell culture from vertebrates in South America. A preliminary investigation for Ehrlichia species in the northern and southeastern regions of Brazil failed to detect Ehrlichia DNA inAmblyomma ticks, humans, dogs, capybaras, and febrile human blood samples (LABRUNA et al., 2007a). In contrast, ehrlichial DNA compatible with Ehrlichia chaffeensis,Ehrlichia ewingii, or an agent closely related toEhrlichia ruminantium were recently reported in animal blood samples from southeastern Brazil (MACHADO et al., 2006; OLIVEIRA et al., 2009; WIDMER et al., 2011).

Most of the published studies on tick-borne diseases in the Brazilian Amazon region have focused on rickettsiosis, mainly in western Amazon, state of Rondônia (LABRUNA et al., 2004, 2007b). In the aforementioned region, someRickettsia species were described for the first time in Brazil. At the same time, there is no information on rickettsioses from the eastern part of the Amazon.

In this study, we evaluated seroprevalence to Babesia canis vogeli, Ehrlichia canis, andRickettsia spp. in dogs from rural and urban areas within the state of Pará, eastern Amazon, Brazil.

Materials and Methods

During 2008-2009, a total of 129 dogs of different breeds and ages were sampled from an urban area and from different farms in rural areas. Those samples were also used for a serological study to investigate the prevalence ofNeospora caninum, Toxoplasma gondii, andLeishmania infantum (formerly chagasi), as previously described (VALADAS et al., 2010). Of all the dogs, 77 (59.7%) were males and 52 (40.3%) were females; 57 samples (44.2%) were collected from urban stray dogs from the municipality of Santarém, and 72 (55.8%) were from dogs from 39 rural properties in 20 different municipalities.Figure 1 shows the municipalities where the respective numbers of dogs were sampled. The rural properties were selected from a prevalence study of other parasitic and infection agents in cattle (MINERVINO et al., 2008; CHIEBAO, 2010). Blood samples were collected from the jugular or brachial vein of the dogs, and sera was obtained by centrifugation. Samples were stored at −20 °C until tested.

Figure 1. Map of Pará state with the municipalities where canine serum samples were collected (number of dogs). 1 Água Azul do Norte (one); 2 Altamira (six); 3 Belterra (one); 4 Canaã dos Carajás (one); 5Conceição do Araguaia (11); 6 Goianésia do Pará (two);7 Itupiranga (six); 8 Jacundá (eight); 9 Marabá (four); 10 Novo Repartimento (two); 11 Ourilândia do Norte (two);12 Pau D'Arco (two); 13 Redenção (four); 14 Santa Maria das Barreiras (two);15 Santana do Araguaia (six); 16Santarém (three rural, 57 urban); 17 São Domingos do Araguaia (two); 18 São Felix do Xingu (two);19 São João do Araguaia (1); 20Tucumã (six). 

Serum samples were submitted to indirect immunofluorescence assay (IFA) with antigens of B. canis vogeli (blood smears from splenectomized dogs that were experimentally infected in our lab) according to Bicalho et al. (2004), using a screening dilution of 1:64. To detect antibodies against E. canis, the bacteria were cultivated in DH82 cells, as described by Aguiar et al. (2007a), and serum samples were analyzed following the protocol by Silva et al. (2010), but with a screening dilution of 1:80. ForRickettsia spp., IFA was run using the screening dilution of 1:64 against six Rickettsia species that occur in Brazil, namelyR. rickettsii, R. parkeri, R. amblyommii, R. rhipicephali, R. bellii, and R. felis, which were cultivated in Vero or C6/36 cells (LABRUNA et al., 2007b; HORTA et al., 2004). Samples with IFA reaction at the cut-off point for each agent were considered positive and further tested in two-fold serial dilution to determine endpoint titers. Serum of aRickettsia species showing titer at least 4-fold higher than those observed for the other Rickettsia species was considered homologous to the first Rickettsia species or to a very closely related species (HORTA et al., 2004, 2010; LABRUNA et al., 2007b; PIRANDA et al., 2008; SAITO et al., 2008).

Possible statistical associations between gender or location (rural or urban) of dogs and the occurrence of anti- B. canis vogeli,E. canis, or any of the six Rickettsia species antibodies were analyzed by Pearson's chi-square test using Minitab statistical software (Minitab 2000). The significance adopted was 5%.


The distance between the visited farms varied from 10 to 1,000 km. From the 20 municipalities visited, only three (Canaã dos Carajás, Ourilândia do Norte, and São João do Araguaia) presented negative results to all tested samples. From the 129 samples tested for B. canis vogeli, 55 (42.6%) were positive, being 34 (59.6%) from urban dogs and 21 (29.1%) from rural dogs. Antibodies againstB. canis vogeli were detected in dogs from 10 different municipalities (Conceição do Araguaia, Itupiranga, Jacundá, Marabá, Redenção, Santa Maria das Barreiras, Santana do Araguaia, Santarém, São Felix do Xingu, and Tucumã).

From the tested samples (129), 21 (16.2%) were positive to E. canis, being 9 (15.7%) from urban dogs and 12 (16.6%) from rural dogs from eight different municipalities (Água Azul do Norte, Altamira, Belterra, Conceição do Araguaia, Jacundá, Pau D'Arco, Redenção, and Santana do Araguaia). The highest anti-E. canis endpoint titer found in dogs from either rural or urban areas was 81,720.

Sera from 41 (31.7%) out of 129 canine samples were positive to at least one Rickettsia species, being 29 (24.8%) rural dogs from 13 different municipalities (Conceição do Araguaia, Itupiranga, Jacundá, Marabá, Novo Repartimento, Pau D'Arco, Redenção, Santa Maria das Barreiras, Santana do Araguaia, Santarém, São Felix do Xingu, São Domingos do Araguaia, and Tucumã) and 12 (21%) urban stray dogs from Santarém municipality. From the sixRickettsia species tested, only four were considered to be possibly present at the studied regions (R. bellii in at least eight dogs, R. rhipicephali in two dogs, R. rickettsii in one dog, and R. amblyommii in eight dogs). Canine endpoint titers to Rickettsia spp. antigens are presented in Table 1. A total of 30, 20, 15, 12, 11, and nine dogs were reactive to R. amblyommii, R. rhipicephali, R. parkeri, R. bellii,R. rickettsii, and R. felis, respectively. Endpoint titers varied from 64 to 8,192 for R. amblyommii. At least half of the 30 R. amblyommii-seroreactive dogs had endpoint titers ≥1024 for R. amblyommii. Endpoint titers for the otherRickettsia species ranged as follows: R. rhipicephali, 64-8,192; R. bellii, 128-8,192;R. parkeri, 128-2,148; R. rickettsii, 64-2,148; and R. felis, 64-512. While the median of the individual titers against both R. amblyommii and R. rhipicephali was 1,024, the median for the titers against R. bellii, R. parkeri, R. rickettsii, and R. felis were 512, 256, 128, and 256, respectively.

Table 1. Endpoint titers from the positive sera tested by indirect immunofluorescence assay (IFA) for six Rickettsiaspecies in dogs from the urban and rural areas of the state of Pará, Brazilian Amazon. 

IFA titers for Rickettsiaantigens
Dog area/sera R. rickettsii R. parkeri R. amblyommii R. rhipicephali R. felis R. bellii PAIHR
10 NR NR NR NR NR 8192 R. bellii
14 64 128 256 1024 NR NR R. rhipicephali
15 256 128 64 NR NR NR
17 NR NR NR NR NR 128 R. bellii
19 256 128 NR NR NR NR
20 NR 256 128 NR NR NR
25 64 NR NR NR NR NR
28 NR NR NR NR NR 1024 R. bellii
43 256 NR NR NR NR NR R. rickettsii
52 NR NR NR NR NR 2048 R. bellii
54 NR NR NR NR NR 1024 R. bellii
57 NR NR NR NR NR 2048 R. bellii
1 NR NR 1024 NR NR NR R. amblyommii
3 NR 256 4096 1024 NR NR R. amblyommii
10 128 256 8192 1024 256 NR R. amblyommii
14 NR NR 256 NR NR NR R. amblyommii
15 NR NR 64 NR NR NR
18 NR NR 64 NR NR NR
20 NR NR 1024 64 64 NR R. amblyommii
21 NR NR 128 NR NR NR R. amblyommii
22 NR NR 64 64 NR NR
24 NR 256 2048 1024 NR NR
28 NR NR NR NR NR 512 R. bellii
37 NR 256 2048 1024 NR 256
38 2048 2048 8192 8192 256 128
43 NR NR 256 NR NR 256
44 NR NR NR NR NR 512 R. bellii
46 NR NR 512 256 NR NR
48 NR NR 128 NR NR NR R. amblyommii
51 NR NR 64 256 NR NR R. rhipicephali
52 128 512 4096 2048 512 NR
53 NR NR 256 128 NR NR
54 NR NR 1024 1024 NR NR
55 NR NR 1024 512 128 NR
56 NR NR 512 256 64 NR
57 NR 512 4096 2048 128 256
60 NR 512 1024 128 256 NR
62 NR 128 1024 NR NR NR R. amblyommii
63 128 128 2048 1024 NR NR
66 64 NR NR NR NR NR
68 NR NR 512 256 NR NR
69 256 1024 2048 2048 512 NR

PAIHR: possible antigen involved in a homologous reaction (a homologous reaction was determined when an endpoint titer to aRickettsia species was at least 4-fold higher than those observed for the other Rickettsiaspecies). NR: non-reagent at 1:64 serum dilution

Regarding B. canis vogeli, female dogs presented significantly higher prevalence (53.8%) than male dogs (35.1%) (P = 0.046). In addition, B. canis vogeli seropositivity was significantly higher (P < 0.01) among urban (59.7%) than rural (29.2%) dogs. For E. canis, there was no association between the frequency of positive animals and the independent variables evaluated (P > 0.05). For Rickettsia spp., no association (P >0.05) was found relating to gender, but rural dogs presented significantly higher prevalence (40.3%) than urban animals (21.1%) (P = 0.02).

Antibodies for the three genera of tick-borne pathogens were not found simultaneously in any of the dogs. Antibodies for at least two genera were found in 16 (22.2%) dogs from the rural area, with highest association between E. canis and Rickettsia spp. (56.2%). In the urban area, there were 17 (29.8%) animals with positive results to at least two genera, whereE. canis and Rickettsia spp. (58.8%) were again the most prevalent. However, no statistically significant correlation was found in positivity for the different pathogens.

Discussion and Conclusions

To the best of our knowledge, Babesia species in dogs from the Amazon region has never been reported. Due to this lack of information about canine babesiosis in the Brazilian Amazon region, the occurrence of positive dogs to B. canis vogeli (42.6%) can only be compared to other Brazilian studies, in which the prevalence of antibodies against this parasite in sera from dogs varied from 35.7% in Paraná state (TRAPP et al., 2006) to 66.9% in Minas Gerais state (RIBEIRO et al., 1990). We can infer from our results that the higher seroprevalence to B. canis vogeli observed among urban dogs is probably due to the predominating tick species recently found in the urban area of the municipality of Santarém, namely, R. sanguineus (SERRA-FREIRE, 2010), which is the only known vector of B. canis vogeli (DANTAS-TORRES, 2008).

Ehrlichia was first reported in Brazil in 1973, in dogs from Minas Gerais state, southeastern Brazil (COSTA et al., 1973). From the 26 Brazilian states, only one remains with no report onEhrlichia species, as recently reviewed or reported (SPOLIDORIO et al., 2010; AZEVEDO et al., 2011; VIEIRA et al., 2011). Considering the Legal Amazon region, the only reports onEhrlichia species are from Rondônia state (western Amazon), where 36% of dogs were seroreactive to E. canis by IFA (AGUIAR et al., 2007b; VIEIRA et al., 2011). Also in Rondônia state, Labruna et al. (2007a) found four out of five dogs infected with E. canis by molecular methods, which was the first molecular report of E. canis in the Amazon region. We have sampled a total of 129 domestic dogs from 20 different municipalities in the state of Pará and found 21 (16.2%) positive results to E. canis by IFA. Our results showed lower occurrence when compared to previous studies in dogs from western Amazon.

Overall, serum endpoint titers to Rickettsia spp. indicate that seropositive rural dogs had been predominately infected by R. amblyommii or by a closely related genotype, whereas seropositive urban dogs had been predominately infected by R. bellii or closely related genotypes (Table 1). Even though we have not recorded ectoparasitism of dogs, it has been reported that R. amblyommii infects exclusively ticks of the genusAmblyomma. In fact, in the Brazilian Amazonian region,R. amblyommii was detected in Amblyomma cajennense, Amblyomma coelebs, Amblyomma longirostre, and Amblyomma geayi (LABRUNA et al. 2004, 2011). The former two ticks are known to parasitize dogs within the rural areas of the Amazon region (LABRUNA et al., 2005). Therefore, they might be related to the serological status of the dogs of the present study. Urban dogs reacted predominately to the non-Spotted Fever group agent R. bellii, an observation that should be further evaluated. It is worth mentioning that this rickettsia and closely related genotypes have been reported infecting species of nearly all tick genera of the New World (PHILIP et al., 1983, LABRUNA et al., 2011), as well as a broad range of insects and diverse organisms, including amoeba (WEINERT et al., 2009).

In contrast to southern and southeastern Brazil, rickettsioses have never been reported in humans from northern Brazil (the Amazon region) (Labruna et al., 2011). Indeed, our results indicate that there is circulation of a Spotted Fever group agent closely related toR. amblyommii in the rural area of the study region. To date,R. amblyommii is still considered of unknown pathogenicity. However, it has been proposed that some of the rickettsiosis cases reported as Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) (presumably caused by R. rickettsii) in the USA may have been caused by R. amblyommii (APPERSON et al., 2008). This assumption relied on serological results, which demonstrated a four-fold increase in endpoint titers to R. amblyommii, but not to R. rickettsii, in acute and convalescent sera samples taken from clinical cases compatible with RMSF (APPERSON et al., 2008).

In summary, this first study on tick-borne agents in dogs from the Brazilian eastern Amazon indicates that these dogs are exposed to several vector-borne infectious agents. These include Babesia organisms, mostly in the urban area, where B. canis vogeli is possibly being transmitted by R. sanguineus ticks; and Spotted Fever groupRickettsia organisms, mostly in the rural area, whereR. amblyommii is possibly being transmitted byAmblyomma ticks. In addition, dogs from both rural and urban areas are similarly exposed to Ehrlichia organisms. While it is well known that E. canis is transmitted by R. sanguineus ticks in the urban areas of the Amazon region, it is possible that other Ehrlichia species are transmitted by native tick species in the rural areas, resulting in similar seroprevalence values between urban and rural dogs. Further studies on tick species and isolation of tick-borne agents from ticks and vertebrate hosts in the Amazon region are needed to better elucidate the epidemiology of tick-borne diseases in the region.


The authors are grateful to the ‘Fundação de Amparo á Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo' (FAPESP) for the grants to MGS and HSS and to ‘Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico' (CNPq) for the grants to SYOBV, MBL, MFBR, AHHM and SMG.


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Received: June 18, 2012; Accepted: February 1, 2013

*Corresponding author: Solange Maria Gennari, Departamento de Medicina Veterinária Preventiva e Saúde Animal, Faculdade de Medicina Veterinária e Zootecnia, Universidade de São Paulo – USP, Av. Orlando Marques de Paiva, 87, Cidade Universitária, CEP 05508-270, São Paulo, SP, Brazil, e-mail:

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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