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Habitat and season drive chigger mite diversity and abundance on small mammals in Peninsular Malaysia

Alkathiry H., Al-Rofaai A., Ya’cob Z., Cutmore T.S., Mohd-Azami S.N.I., Husin N.A., Lim F.S., Koosakulnirand S., Mahfodz N.H., Ishak S.N., Loong S.K., Stekolnikov A., Mohd-Taib F.S., Abubakar S., Makepeace B.L., Chaisiri K., Khoo J.J.

Pathogens, 11 (10): 1087 (2022).


Chigger mites are vectors of the bacterial disease scrub typhus, caused by Orientia spp. The bacterium is vertically transmitted in the vector and horizontally transmitted to terrestrial vertebrates (primarily wild small mammals), with humans as incidental hosts. Previous studies have shown that the size of the chigger populations is correlated with the density of small mammals in scrub typhus-endemic regions. Here, we explore interactions between the small mammals and chiggers in two oil palm plantations located in the Perak and Johor states of Peninsular Malaysia. The location in Perak also contained an aboriginal (Orang Asli) settlement. A ~5% sub-sample from 40,736 chigger specimens was identified from five species of small mammals (n = 217), revealing 14 chigger species, including two new records for Malaysia. The abundance and species richness of chiggers were significantly affected by habitat type (highest in forest border), state (highest in Perak), and season (highest in dry). The overall prevalence of Orientia tsutsugamushi DNA in small mammal tissues was 11.7% and was not significantly affected by host or habitat characteristics, but in Johor, was positively associated with infestation by Leptotrombidium arenicola. These findings highlight the risk of contracting scrub typhus in oil palm plantations and associated human settlements.

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