Scrub typhus ecology: a systematic review of Orientia in vectors and hosts
Elliott I., Pearson I., Dahal P., Thomas NV., Roberts T., Newton PN.
Abstract Scrub typhus, caused by Orientia tsutsugamushi, is an important and neglected vector-borne zoonotic disease with an expanding known distribution. The ecology of the disease is complex and poorly understood, impairing discussion of public health interventions. To highlight what we know and the themes of our ignorance, we conducted a systematic review of all studies investigating the pathogen in vectors and non-human hosts. A total of 276 articles in 7 languages were included, with 793 study sites across 30 countries. There was no time restriction for article inclusion, with the oldest published in 1924. Seventy-six potential vector species and 234 vertebrate host species were tested, accounting for over one million trombiculid mites (‘chiggers’) and 83,000 vertebrates. The proportion of O. tsutsugamushi positivity was recorded for different categories of laboratory test and host species. Vector and host collection sites were geocoded and mapped. Ecological data associated with these sites were summarised. A further 145 articles encompassing general themes of scrub typhus ecology were reviewed. These topics range from the life-cycle to transmission, habitats, seasonality and human risks. Important gaps in our understanding are highlighted together with possible tools to begin to unravel these. Many of the data reported are highly variable and inconsistent and minimum data reporting standards are proposed. With more recent reports of human Orientia sp. infection in the Middle East and South America and enormous advances in research technology over recent decades, this comprehensive review provides a detailed summary of work investigating this pathogen in vectors and non-human hosts and updates current understanding of the complex ecology of scrub typhus. A better understanding of scrub typhus ecology has important relevance to ongoing research into improving diagnostics, developing vaccines and identifying useful public health interventions to reduce the burden of the disease.