Beware of flea-borne spotted fever in Australia – disease is transferred to humans by fleas on infected dogs
Flea-borne spotted fever (FBSF) is a rising public health concern in Australia, according to Dr Rebecca Traub, Associate Professor in Veterinary Parasitology at the University of Melbourne.
“FBSF is transferred to humans through flea bites. In humans, signs of FBSF are non-specific and range from flu-like illness to severe multi-systemic disease.
“It was once considered rare but in 2009 the first outbreak of FBSF occurred in a family in Melbourne. Since then, retrospective testing with an improved diagnostic assay confirmed that an additional 14 clinical cases were previously misdiagnosed.
“Recent research now implicates dogs as the natural mammalian hosts for the causative agent, Rickettsia felis in Australia. Fleas that feed on infected dogs can remain carriers of the agent for many generations and can pass FBSF on to humans. So, if we want to prevent the spread of this disease, it’s critical that pet owners use effective flea treatment and control in their pets,” Dr Traub said.
There is strong evidence to suggest that FBSF has been misdiagnosed in Australia in the past because of the vague signs, which can mimic other flea- and tick- borne diseases. Dr Traub says that this suggests doctors should include relevant patient history such as exposure to domestic pets with fleas when a typical ‘spotted fever disease’ is suspected.
“FBSF is an emerging disease that’s transferred from animals to humans and as veterinarians, it’s vital that we work with our clients to ensure they understand the importance of flea control in pets. This is the only way to minimise the risk of exposure in everyone from veterinarians to clients and their families,” Dr Traub said.