Rickettsia: Vector-borne Bacterial Infections and One Health

By: Anthony D’Angelo

Figure 1: Dr. Blanton, MD

Dr. Lucas Blanton, MD, is an infectious disease physician and associate professor at UTMB. He obtained his medical degree from UTMB in 2005 and did his internal medicine residency at the Medical University of South Carolina, followed by a fellowship in infectious diseases at UTMB. Dr. Blanton’s research focuses on rickettsial diseases.

Rickettsial diseases are those caused by Rickettsia spp., a group of obligate intracellular bacteria that are found in blood feeding arthropods such as lice, fleas, ticks, and various mites, making it a vector-borne pathogen. When these arthropods feed on humans, they can transmit the bacteria. Pathogenic members of the genus Rickettsia cause acute undifferentiated febrile illness, which is often accompanied by rash in the human host. If untreated, rickettsial diseases can result in severe life-threatening manifestations, including respiratory failure, kidney damage, and severe neurological symptoms. Diseases caused by Rickettsia bacteria include epidemic typhus (Rickettsia prowazekii), Rocky Mountain spotted fever (Rickettsia rickettsii), rickettsialpox (Rickettsia akari), and murine typhus (Rickettsia typhi)1.  Dr. Blanton has made important contributions to science by studying these diseases in various settings, including the study of the rickettsial diseases in Galveston and other parts of Texas.

Figure 2: Rickettsia

Dr. Blanton explains that animals play a huge role in rickettsial disease transmission to humans as animals serve as reservoirs for the microbes. Arthropods also play important roles in human rickettsial disease. To stop disease transmission to humans, one must understand both the roles animal reservoirs and arthropods play in the ecology of the disease.  Once the ecology of disease is understood, interventions can be designed to reduce rickettsial disease in humans. Such disease ecology is best studied using an interdisciplinary One Health approach. Dr. Blanton has made important discoveries of rickettsial disease transmission in Texas’ human populations.


  1. Blanton L. S. (2019). The Rickettsioses: A Practical Update. Infectious disease clinics of North America, 33(1), 213–229. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.idc.2018.10.010

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