Epidemiology and Infection

Original Papers


Social-ecological factors determine spatial variation in human incidence of tick-borne ehrlichiosis

B. R. BAYLESa1 c1 and B. F. ALLANa2

a1 School of Public Health, St Louis University, St Louis, MO, USA

a2 Department of Entomology and Integrative Biology, University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA


The spatial distribution of human cases of tick-borne diseases is probably determined by a combination of biological and socioeconomic factors. A zoonotic tick-borne pathogen, Ehrlichia chaffeensis, is increasing in human incidence in the USA. In this study, the spatial patterns of probable and confirmed E. chaffeensis-associated cases of ehrlichiosis from 2000 to 2011 were investigated at the zip-code level in Missouri. We applied spatial statistics, including global and local regression models, to investigate the biological and socioeconomic factors associated with human incidence. Our analysis confirms that the distribution of ehrlichiosis in Missouri is non-random, with numerous clusters of high incidence. Furthermore, we identified significant, but spatially variable, associations between incidence and both biological and socioeconomic factors, including a positive association with reservoir host density and a negative association with human population density. Improved understanding of local variation in these spatial factors may facilitate targeted interventions by public health authorities.

(Received June 19 2013)

(Revised October 13 2013)

(Accepted October 30 2013)

(Online publication November 26 2013)

Key words

  • Emerging infections;
  • infectious disease epidemiology;
  • ticks;
  • vectors;
  • zoonoses


c1 Author for correspondence: B. R. Bayles, PhD, MPH, Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, Learning and Environmental Sciences 325, 1954 Buford Ave, St Paul, MN 55108. (Email: brett.r.bayles@gmail.com)