Development of a diagnostic marker for Phlebotomus papatasi to initiate a potential vector surveillance program in North America

Austin Merchant, Tian Yu, Jizhe Shi, Xuguo Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Phlebotomus papatasi, an Old World sand fly species, is primarily responsible for the transmission of leishmaniasis, a highly infectious and potentially lethal disease. International travel, especially military rotations, between domestic locations and P. papatasi-prevalent regions in the Middle East poses an imminent threat to the public health of US citizens. Because of its small size and cryptic morphology, identification of P. papatasi is challenging and labor-intensive. Here, we developed a ribosomal DNA-polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based diagnostic assay that is capable of detecting P. papatasi genomic DNA from mixed samples containing multiple sand flies native to the Americas. Serial dilution of P. papatasi samples demonstrated that this diagnostic assay could detect one P. papatasi from up to 255 non-target sand flies. Due to its simplicity, sensitivity and specificity, this rapid identification tool is suited for a long-term surveillance program to screen for the presence of P. papatasi in the continental United States and to reveal geographical regions potentially vulnerable to sand fly-borne diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Article number162
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by a start-up fund and a gift fund to X.Z. The funders had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, or in the decision to publish the results. The authors thank Michelle Collocicco and Edward Rowton of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research for providing the specimens of Phlebotomus papatasii and Marcello Ramalho-Ortigao of Kansas State University for providing the specimens of Lutzomyia longipalpis. Special thanks go to Logan Minter for the identification of sand fly species, Grayson C. Brown for his comments on an earlier draft, and anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on the manuscript. The information reported in this paper is part of a project of the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station and is published with the approval of the Director.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • PCR-based diagnostic assay
  • Phlebotomus papatasi
  • Sand fly-borne diseases
  • Sensitivity and specificity
  • Vector surveillance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Insect Science


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