High infection rate of Wolbachia endobacteria in the sand flea Tunga penetrans from Brazil

Jörg Heukelbach, Insa Bonow, Lars Witt, Hermann Feldmeier, Peter Fischer

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Tunga penetrans is an ectoparasite causing considerable morbidity in endemic communities. Recently, endobacteria of the genus Wolbachia were identified also in T. penetrans. Since Wolbachia were suggested as targets for intervention of insect pests and human filariasis, sand fleas were collected from infested humans, dogs and rats in a hyperendemic area in northeastern Brazil, and screened for Wolbachia infections. Twenty-one adult fleas and four batches of flea eggs were examined by PCR using primers targeting the 16S rDNA, the DNA coding for FtsZ cell-cycle protein or a Wolbachia surface protein (WSP-1). Wolbachia were detected in all examined samples from eggs, free-living male and female fleas and from neosomic female fleas. No Wolbachia DNA was detected in two samples containing flea faeces. In addition, Wolbachia were labelled by immunohistology in the ovaries of 37 female fleas using antisera raised against WSP-1 of Wolbachia the filarial parasite Dirofilaria immitis. In the vicinity of the embedded fleas containing the Wolbachia, infiltrations of neutrophils and macrophages were observed. This study showed that Wolbachia endobacteria are abundant in T. penetrans and that all examined fleas were infected by these endobacteria. Our findings may have important implications for the future development of control strategies for human tungiasis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-230
Number of pages6
JournalActa Tropica
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2004


  • Brazil
  • Immunohistology
  • PCR
  • Siphonaptera
  • Tunga penetrans
  • Wolbachia


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