Although granulocytic anaplasmosis, caused by infection of Anaplasma phagocytophilum, is an emerging human and domestic animal disease, the ecology and natural history of the parasite is not well understood. Gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) are relatively common, occasionally peri-urban mesocarnivores whose geographic distribution overlaps the reported distribution of granulocytic anaplasmosis in humans and domestic animals in North America. We evaluated the potential of foxes as hosts and reservoirs of A. phagocytophilum in both urban and backcountry habitats of the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation, Humboldt County, California, USA. We trapped 54 individual foxes and had 16 recaptures for a total of 70 fox samples between June 2003 and October 2004 in delineated urban and backcountry zones. We collected 296 adult and 145 nymphal ticks from the 70 captured foxes including 193 Ixodes pacificus, 149 Ixodes texanus, 98 Dermacentor variabilis, and one Dermacentor occidentalis. There were seasonal differences in tick intensities, with most I. pacificus adults occurring in winter and spring (P<0.001), most I. texanus nymphs in spring (P=0.03), and most D. variabilis adults in spring and summer (P=0.01). Thirty-six (51%) of the 70 fox sera had antibodies against A. phagocytophilum, with a higher (P=0.24) prevalence in backcountry foxes (16 of 23) than in urban-zone foxes (12 of 31). Six (9%) of 70 fox samples were polymerase chain reaction–positive for A. phagocytophilum. Twenty-eight (31%) of 90 domestic dogs sampled from vaccine clinics within the study area were seropositive for A. phagocytophilum. There was a significant difference in prevalence between dogs and backcountry foxes (70%), but no differences were found between dogs and urban foxes (39%). We propose that gray foxes are a good sentinel species for A. phagocytophilum infections in northwestern California.
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Vol. 45 • No. 2