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Keywords:

  • Argasidae;
  • ticks;
  • Ornithodoros moubata;
  • hepatitis B virus;
  • mechanical transmission;
  • Namibia

Abstract. Wild-caught and colonized tampan ticks, Ornithodoros moubata (Murray), were fed on hepatitis B virus (HBV)-positive blood-means in a series of four experiments.

Hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) persisted in nymphal and adult ticks for up to 779 days, while the epsmark antigen (HBeAg) persisted in mature nymphs up to 13 days, in adult males up to 11 days and in adult females up to 16 days. HBsAg was transmitted trans-stadially through two moults during the life cycle but transovarial transmission did not occur. The surface antigen was transmitted by two out of fifteen single ticks into 0.4 ml aliquots of HBV-negative blood, although six groups of ticks failed to transmit into 5.5 ml aliquots of blood: this antigen was not transmitted to hamsters. HBsAg was detected in samples of the ticks' coxal and rectal fluid secretions always at the infecting feed and usually at the second feed. HBeAg was only detected in one of two samples of coxal fluid collected at the infecting feed.

The results as a whole indicate that no biological multiplication of virus occurs in O.moubata but that mechanical transmission from ticks to man could occur by: (i) contamination of a person when crushing infected ticks; (ii) infection by bite; (iii) contamination with coxal fluid, especially by scratching bites. This is thought to take place among the Kavango tribe in their village huts in north-eastern Namibia where infestations of infected O.moubata occur.