USA researchers study cat flea saliva to uncover how diseases are spread

By Casandra Andrews
candrews@health.southalabama.edu

With the aim of stopping the spread of diseases that infect pets and humans, scientists at the USA College of Medicine have studied fleas – specifically the microscopic salivary glands of cat fleas.

Research from the United States was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Pathogens and Disease, with funding from the National Institutes of Health. The July 2021 issue contains a research paper by Monika Danchenko, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, entitled “Dynamic gene expression in the salivary glands of cat fleas during Rickettsia felis infection”.

Fleas are small parasites of birds and mammals whose blood-feeding can transmit a variety of serious pathogens that can cause diseases such as bubonic plague, flea-borne rickettsioses (typhoid and typhus), and cat scratch disease.

Work on the project began in 2018 and was interrupted – at least briefly – by the global health pandemic COVID-19. Two more contributed to the work: Kevin Macaluso. Ph. D., Professor and Chair of Microbiology and Immunology, and PhD student Hanna Laukaitis.

“We hope that a better understanding of what cat fleas need to feed and transmit pathogens will give doctors, veterinarians and public health officials the information they need to prevent new outbreaks of a range of diseases,” said Danchenko, “and about a more effective treatment for humans and pets.”

The article is timely, as states like California and Texas have reported an increase in cases of typhoid fever in recent years. These cases have been attributed to fleas, which have been linked to an increasing population of rodents and possums, and require fundamental scientific efforts to address a serious risk to human health.

Read the full article here.