In sub-Saharan Africa, Amblyomma ticks are vectors of heartwater disease in domestic ruminants, caused by the rickettsial pathogen Ehrlichia ruminantium. Immature tick stages often bite humans, whereby they act as vectors of tick-bite fever caused by Rickettsia africae. Moreover, Amblyomma ticks cause damage to livestock due to their feeding behaviour. In South Africa, we studied the abundance of Amblyomma hebraeum ticks on goats of emerging farmers in Mpumalanga Province. A selected number of A. hebraeum nymphs and adult ticks was tested for co-infection with E. ruminantium and R. africae.
A total of 630 indigenous goats, belonging to farmers in the Mnisi Community area, were examined for ticks in 2013 and 2014. All ticks were identified, and a selected number was tested by PCR with reverse line blot hybridisation.
In total, 13,132 ticks were collected from goats distributed over 17 different households. Amblyomma hebraeum was the predominant species, followed by R. microplus. Rhipicephalus appendiculatus, R. simus and R. zambeziensis were also identified. Amblyomma hebraeum was present throughout the year, with peak activity of adults in summer (November) and nymphs in winter (July). The ratio between adults and nymphs ranged from 1:2.7 in summer to 1:55.1 in winter. The mean prevalence of infection for E. ruminantium by PCR/RLB in adult ticks was 17.4% (31/178), whereas 15.7% (28/178) were infected with R. africae. In pooled nymphs, 28.4% were infected with E. ruminantium and 38.8% carried R. africae infection. Co-infections of E. ruminantium and R. africae in adult and pooled nymphal ticks were 3.9% (7/178) and 10% (14.9), respectively. Lameness of goats due to predilection of ticks for the interdigital space of their feet was observed in 89% of the households.
Goats act as important alternative hosts for cattle ticks, which underscored the necessity to include goats in control programs. It is suggested to use acaricide-impregnated leg-bands as a sustainable method to kill ticks and prevent lameness in goats. The challenge of goats by considerable numbers of E. ruminantium-infected ticks is a major obstacle for upgrading the indigenous goat breeds. Humans may be at risk to contract tick-bite fever in this area.