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Chair of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of South Alabama, Kevin Macaluso, joins the show to discuss something you might not have even heard of: rickettsiology.

Tune in to discover:

  • What types of symptoms arise when tick-borne spotted fever goes undetected in the host
  • In what ways rickettsia behave like viruses, and how they use host cell molecules to move around and penetrate neighboring cells
  • What types of vector, host, and pathogenic variables are at play in the transmission biology of rickettsia

Rickettsiology is the study of obligate intracellular gram-negative bacteria that was described over 100 years ago by Howard Taylor Ricketts, a physician who set out to study the then-unknown source of a lethal disease often referred to as black measles or spotted fever.

Through a series of studies, Ricketts and other researchers figured out that the bacteria causing the disease could be transmitted through tick bites. Over 40 species of rickettsia have been identified worldwide. Ultimately, it is Macaluso’s goal to figure out what drives rickettsial diseases and rickettsial infection in order to potentially intervene in the transmission cycle or find a treatment.

Macaluso’s research is centered around the disease transmission cycle of rickettsia. “Because you’re dealing with bacteria that are transmitted by arthropods to vertebrate hosts, they form a triad of vector-borne diseases, and there are a lot of variables associated with that…it’s a complex interaction between these three organisms, and we study all aspects of it,” explains Macaluso.

He goes on to explain the mechanisms of the bacteria once in the body, including how and where they replicate in the body, how they disseminate in the body, how certain rickettsial pathogens affect the ticks through which transmission occurs, and more.

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