To the Editor: Murine typhus is a febrile illness caused by Rickettsia typhi. The
clinical manifestations are nonspecific, and the signs and symptoms resemble those
of several other febrile illnesses. Murine typhus can be a self-limiting infection;
however, it should be diagnosed and treated because complications and even death can
). In Mexico, particularly in Yucatan State, cases of murine typhus in humans and
high prevalence of antibodies in healthy blood donors have been reported (
). In 2012, we isolated R. typhi from a human patient in southeastern Mexico by using
a simple and effective method, an adaptation of the centrifugation shell vial method
to cell culture plates.
The patient, a 23-year-old man from Dzibzantun (21°15′00″N, 89°03′00″W), in the northeastern
part of Yucatan State, was referred for possible diagnosis of rickettsial infection.
He had a low-grade fever (37.6°C) and a maculopapular rash on the thorax and upper
and lower extremities. The patient reported having cats in the house, but no fleas
or ticks were observed. Clinical laboratory findings were within reference ranges.
Test results were negative for dengue virus, but the Weil-Felix (Proteus OX19) test
result was positive (titer 1:164). Single-step PCR amplification was performed by
using genus-specific primers for the 17-kDa lipoprotein and the citrate synthase gene
(gltA), as described previously, to obtain amplicons of 434 bp and 380–385 bp (
). PCR was positive for R. typhi, and 100 mg of oral doxycycline 2 times per day for
7 days was prescribed; the rash cleared.
We subjected 5 mL of blood to centrifugation for 1 hour at 1,000 rpm and then stored
the plasma at −80°C. Blood samples from other patients were used as controls. A total
of 50,000 Vero cells were grown in 8 central wells of a 24-well cell culture cluster
(Corning Incorporated, Corning, NY, USA) with minimal essential medium (MEM; Biowest,
Nuaillé, France) supplemented with 10% fetal bovine serum (Biowest) and incubated
at 37°C with 5% CO2 for 48 hours to obtain 95% confluence. We then thawed 700 μL of
the plasma in a 37°C water bath. The MEM was discarded, and the wells were refilled
with 250 μL each of a mixture of the plasma and fresh medium at a 1:3 ratio. The plaque
was covered with parafilm and centrifuged at 700 g for 60 minutes at 22°C. The supernatant
was discarded and replaced with 1 mL of MEM supplemented with 5% fetal bovine serum,
100 U penicillin, 100 μg streptomycin, and 250 ng amphotericin B (Sigma Aldrich, St.
Louis, MO, USA) and incubated at 33°C with 5% CO2.
On day 3 after sample inoculation, the antimicrobial drug–containing medium was removed
and replaced with MEM without antimicrobial drug and supplemented with 5% fetal calf
serum (HyClone Laboratories, Inc., South Logan, UT, USA). Medium was changed every
3 days until day 15. A cell sample from each well was tested for infection at days
9 and 15 by using Gimenez stain and PCR with 17 kDa and gltA primers.
Gimenez staining on day 15 yielded numerous red-stained bacteria in the cytoplasm
of Vero cells in the 8 wells used. A single scraping of the cells from the positive
wells was inoculated onto confluent layers of Vero cells, which enabled establishment
of the isolate.
Three PCR amplicons of the 17kDa– and gltA–specific primers (
) from positive wells were fully sequenced. After removing primer sequences, we compared
amplicon sequences by conducting a gapped BLAST 2.0 (http://blast.st-va.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Blast.cgi)
search of the GenBank database; the 17-kDa (accession no. JX198507) and gltA (accession
no. KC469611) gene fragment sequences showed 100% identity with R. typhi strain Wilmington
(accession no. AE017197.1).
Murine typhus has been reemerging in southeastern Mexico for the past 6 years (
). Active epidemiologic surveillance led to early detection of human cases and opportune
treatment, thereby decreasing the rate of severe illness. However, the prevalent social
and cultural conditions in small villages, with close contact with domestic, peridomestic,
and wild animals, facilitate the transmission of this fleaborne rickettsiosis; human
infections, such as the case presented here, still occur.
We replaced shell vials with cell culture plates and isolated rickettsiae from a biological
sample from a patient with acute murine typhus. The method is as simple as the shell
vial centrifugation technique and is highly sensitive and easy to perform, making
it an excellent choice for rickettsiae isolation when shell vials are not available.
In the United States, isolation of R. typhi from a human was last reported >50 years
ago (8). The case reported here reinforces the need to extend surveillance to small
towns and villages in Yucatan State. It also shows that a shell vial alternative method
for R. typhi isolation is simple and effective.