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  • Cause systemic diseases in animals
  • Usually use arthropod vectors
  • Host and cell type specificity
  • Q fever and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are zoonoses


  • Non-motile, pleomorphic Gram-negative organisms
  • Obligate intracellular pathogens
  • Require live cells for culture such as tissue culture cells or embryonated eggs
  • Require Romanowsky stains
  • Include two families, Rickettsiaceae and Anaplasmataceae
  • Rickettsiaceae have cell walls that contain peptidoglycan; they target endothelial cells and leukocytes
  • Anaplasmataceae lack cell walls; they target erythrocytes


  • Rickettsiae replicate in gut epithelial cells of arthropod vectors and spread to other organs such as salivary glands and ovaries
  • Transmission occurs during feeding on the animal host
  • Transovarial or trans-stadial transmission occurs in the arthropod vectors
  • Most ricketsiae have limited survival in the environment, apart from Coxiella burnetii, which undergoes aerosol transmission

Pathogenesis and pathogenicity

  • Many rickettsiae target endothelial cells of small blood vessels; they produce phospholipase which damages phagosome membranes, escaping into the cytoplasm
  • Ehrlichia target leukocytes or platelets, and inhibit phagosome/lysosome fusion
  • Anaplasmataceae localise within vacuoles or on the surface of red blood cells; they may alter red cell antigens causing immune-mediated damage. Anaemia may result from haemolysis or removal of red blood cells


  • Giemsa-stained blood or tissue smears identify blue/purple organisms
  • Fluorescent antibody technique for specific identification
  • Isolation in embryonated eggs or tissue culture lines
  • Nucleic acid probes and PCR
  • Inoculation of susceptible animals