An outbreak of Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) transmitted by the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus sensu lato) has emerged as a major human and animal health concern in Mexicali, Mexico. Due to high rates of brown dog tick infestation, susceptibility, and association with humans, dogs serve as sentinels and have a key role in the ecology of RMSF. A cross-sectional household questionnaire study was conducted in six rural and urban locations to characterize dog ecology and demography in RMSF high-and low-risk areas of Mexicali. In addition, we tracked movement patterns of 16 dogs using a GPS data logger. Of 253 households, 73% owned dogs, and dog ownership tended to be higher in high-risk areas, with a mean dog:human ratio of 0.43, compared with 0.3 in low-risk areas. Dogs in high-risk areas had higher fecundity and roamed more, but the dog density and numbers of free-roaming dogs were comparable. There was a higher proportion of younger dogs and lower proportion of older dogs in high-risk areas. The high proportion of immunologically naïve puppies in high risk areas could result in a lack of herd immunity leading to a more vulnerable dog and human population. The marked increase of space use of free-roaming dogs in high-risk areas suggests that unrestrained dogs could play an important role in spreading ticks and pathogens. As means to limit RMSF risk, practical changes could include increased efforts for spay-neuter and policies encouraging dog restraint to limit canine roaming and spread of ticks across communities; due to dog density is less impactful such policies may be more useful than restrictions on the number of owned dogs.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)