Survey shows growing risk of tick-to-human diseases in Kenya’s Maasai Mara

By Gatonye Gathura

A new survey has confirmed a growing risk of tick-to-human diseases in the world-famous Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.

Researchers collected and studied 1,465 ticks in 25 localities within the popular tourist destinations as well as in human settlements within the Mara.

The report confirms the circulation of tick-borne pathogens, some of them fatal to humans and livestock in the reserve.

“The findings show that ticks from the reserve are infected with zoonotic R. africae and unclassified Rickettsia spp., demonstrating the risk of various tick-bite fevers to locals and visitors,” says the study.

For example, ticks infected with the rickettsioses-causing bacteria were confirmed from Kichwa Tembo – a wildlife-human interface dominated by tented camps and resorts within the Mara.

“This may present a health hazard to local and international tourists visiting the reserve,” says the study published in the journal Plos One in August.

The study involved the Kenya Wildlife Service, Institute of Primate Research, the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, Nairobi, and several local universities.

The results highlight that tick species in the Mara feed on humans as well as diverse wildlife and livestock, including blue wildebeest, African buffalo, goat, sheep, and cattle.

“We also report that questing ticks in this wildlife ecosystem feed on humans, wildlife, and domestic animals.”

The presence of R. africae, which causes a potentially fatal, but as yet neglected febrile illness, the authors say presents a threat to international travelers and local communities.

“These findings are important to public and veterinary health strategies mitigating possible disease outbreaks in this fast-changing wildlife ecosystem in eastern Africa,” write the authors.

The authors blame the emerging animal-to-human diseases in the area to accelerated land fragmentation to accommodate more conservancies, tourist lodges, human settlements, and agricultural developments.

This multiple land uses, the authors say favor the convergence of humans and domestic animals with wild animals and increase the risk of pathogen transmission.

About Gatonye Gathura 43 Articles
Science Journalist

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