Head louse, Pediculus humanus capitis, is an obligatory blood-sucking ectoparasite, distributed worldwide. Phylogenetically, it occurs in five divergent mitochondrial clades (A–E); each exhibiting a particular geographical distribution. Recent studies suggest that, as in the case of body louse, head louse could be a disease vector. We aimed to study the genetic diversity of head lice collected in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) and to screen for louse-borne pathogens in these lice.
A total of 181 head lice were collected from 27 individuals at the Monkole Hospital Center located in Kinshasa. All head lice were genotyped and screened for the presence of louse-borne bacteria using molecular methods. We searched for Bartonella quintana, Borrelia recurrentis, Rickettsia prowazekii, Anaplasma spp., Yersinia pestis, Coxiella burnetii and Acinetobacter spp.
Among these head lice, 67.4% (122/181) belonged to clade A and 24.3% (44/181) belonged to clade D. Additionally, for the first time in this area, we found clade E in 8.3% (15/181) of tested lice, from two infested individuals. Dual infestation with clades A and D was observed for 44.4% individuals. Thirty-three of the 181 head lice were infected only by different bacterial species of the genus Acinetobacter. Overall, 16 out of 27 individuals were infested (59.3%). Six Acinetobacter species were detected including Acinetobacter baumannii (8.3%), Acinetobacter johnsonii (1.7%), Acinetobacter soli (1.7%), Acinetobacter pittii (1.7%), Acinetobacter guillouiae (1.1%), as well as a new potential species named “Candidatus Acinetobacter pediculi”.
To our knowledge, this study reports for the first time, the presence of clade E head lice in DR Congo. This study is also the first to report the presence of Acinetobacter species DNAs in human head lice in DR Congo.
Boumbanda Koyo, C.S., Amanzougaghene, N., Davoust, B. et al. Genetic diversity of human head lice and molecular detection of associated bacterial pathogens in Democratic Republic of Congo. Parasites Vectors 12, 290 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13071-019-3540-6