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Epidemiological serosurvey of vector-borne and zoonotic pathogens among homeless people living in shelters in Marseille: cross-sectional one-day surveys (2005–2015)


Homeless people are often exposed to unhygienic environments as well as to animals carrying arthropods which both transmit zoonotic infections and human louse-borne pathogens. We attempted to determine the prevalence of antibodies against several vector-borne and zoonotic pathogens among homeless adults living in Marseille. During the 2005–2015 period, we collected sera samples from 821 homeless adults living in shelters. Antibodies against Bartonella quintana, Bartonella henselae, Borrelia recurrentis, Coxiella burnetii, Francisella tularensis (with a cut-off of 1:100), Rickettsia akari, Rickettsia conorii, Rickettsia felis, Rickettsia prowazekii, and Rickettsia typhi (with a cut-off of 1:64) were searched by microimmunofluorescence (MIF). MIF-positive serum samples were confirmed by cross-adsorption to characterise cross-reacting antigens and immunoblotting. Positive sera by Western blot were further tested using qPCR. We evidenced a prevalence of 4.9% seroreactivity to at least one pathogen including phase II C. burnetii (2.1%), B. quintana (1.7%), R. conorii (0.4%), R. prowazekii (0.4%), R. typhi (0.1%), B. recurrentis (0.1%), and F. tularensis (0.1%). No DNA from any pathogens was detected. A comparison with studies conducted prior to the 2000–2003 period showed a decrease in the overall seroprevalence of several vector-borne and zoonotic infections.

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This study was supported by the Institut Hospitalo-Universitaire (IHU) Méditerranée Infection, the French National Research Agency under the “Investissements d’avenir” programme, reference ANR-10-IAHU-03, the Région Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur and European FEDER PRIMI and BioTK funding.

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Authors and Affiliations



TD, PEF, and PG contributed to experimental design, data analysis, statistics, interpretation, and writing. VT, TL, ML, SB, HTD, and PB administered questionnaires, examined patients, and collected samples. ML provided technical assistance. PB and DR contributed to critically reviewing the manuscript. PG coordinated the work.

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Correspondence to Philippe Gautret.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

The Marseille Institutional Review Board Ethics Committee approved and reviewed this retrospective study design (Protocol: CCPCRB 99-76 [year 2005] and 2010-A01406-33 [after year 2010]), and conducted according to the Declaration of Helsinki.

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Eligible participants signed an informed consent form.

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Ly, T.D.A., Louni, M., Hoang, V.T. et al. Epidemiological serosurvey of vector-borne and zoonotic pathogens among homeless people living in shelters in Marseille: cross-sectional one-day surveys (2005–2015). Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis 39, 1663–1672 (2020).

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  • Homelessness
  • Clothes louse
  • Microimmunofluorescence
  • Vector-borne pathogens
  • Zoonotic pathogens