rickettsia rĭkĕt´sēə [key], any of an order (Rickettsiales) of very small microorganisms, many disease-causing, that live in vertebrates and are transmitted by bloodsucking parasitic arthropods such as fleas, lice (see louse), and ticks. Rickettsias are named after their discoverer, the American pathologist Harold Taylor Ricketts, who died of typhus in Mexico after confirming the infectious agent of that rickettsial disease. Rickettsias are gram-negative, coccoid-shaped or rod-shaped bacteria; unlike other bacteria, but like viruses, they require a living host (a living cell) to survive. Rickettsias from infected vertebrates, usually mammals, live and multiply in the gastrointestinal tract of an arthropod carrier but do not cause disease there; they are transmitted to another vertebrate, possibly one of another species, by the arthropod's mouthparts or feces.
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