Research Article: Xenopsylla cheopis (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae) Susceptibility to Deltamethrin in Madagascar

Date Published: November 4, 2014

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Sebastien Boyer, Adélaïde Miarinjara, Nohal Elissa, Érika Martins Braga.


The incidence of bubonic plague in Madagascar is high. This study reports the susceptibility of 32 different populations of a vector, the flea Xenopsylla cheopis (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae), to the insecticide Deltamethrin. Despite the use of Deltamethrin against fleas, plague epidemics have re-emerged in Madagascar. The majority of the study sites were located in the Malagasy highlands where most plague cases have occurred over the last 10 years. X. cheopis fleas were tested for susceptibility to Deltamethrin (0.05%): only two populations were susceptible to Deltamethrin, four populations were tolerant and 26 populations were resistant. KD50 (50% Knock-Down) and KD90 (90% Knock-Down) times were determined, and differed substantially from 9.4 to 592.4 minutes for KD50 and 10.4 min to 854.3 minutes for KD90. Susceptibility was correlated with latitude, but not with longitude, history of insecticide use nor date of sampling. Combined with the number of bubonic plague cases, our results suggest that an immediate switch to an insecticide other than Deltamethrin is required for plague vector control in Madagascar.

Partial Text

Ectoparasites (including ticks and fleas) are both pests and vectors of various diseases of humans, livestock, pets, and wild animals. They can transmit diverse pathogens of medical and/or veterinary significance, including viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and helminthes [1]. Plague is one of these diseases and still remains a health problem with occasional epidemics occurring in the world. Over the last decade 82% of all cases worldwide (more than 2,000 annually, total 21,725) have been in the Democratic Republic of Congo (10,581 cases between 2000 and 2009) and Madagascar (7,182) [2], [3]. In Madagascar, 2,409 cases were confirmed between 2007 and 2011, and the country declared 67% of the worldwide cases in 2012 [4], [5].

The KD50 and KD90 on one hand, and mortality on the other, are not indicators of the same mechanisms of resistance, and therefore not the same evolutionary selections; nevertheless, the correlations between these measures are strong enough to conclude about the Deltamethrin resistance of populations in the field. The results we report are unambiguous and raise serious concerns about flea control: 81.25% of 32 tested populations were resistant to 0.05% Deltamethrin. In 2000, only one X. cheopis population was found to be resistant to Deltamethrin (0.025%) [20]. Of the four populations tested in 2000, besides the one resistant population, three have become tolerant to a higher Deltamethrin concentration. Thus, the resistance has increased substantially. Analyses of pests with multiple resistances indicated that treatment with one insecticide can favor resistance to a second, different, insecticide; the example of DDT treatment influencing the resistance to other insecticides has been extensively studied and documented [32], [33]. As the resistance of X. cheopis to DDT has been demonstrated in the central highland of Madagascar since the early 80’s, our hypothesis is that X. cheopis may have acquired Deltamethrin resistance after exposure to DDT treatment.

We report that only two of the 32 flea populations sampled from different locations were susceptible to Deltamethrin. Consequently, in the current context of the re-emergence of plague and the increasing numbers of human plague cases in Madagascar, Deltamethrin is ineffective against fleas. Its use in Madagascar should be stopped and the control program for plague diseases needs to change to another insecticide. Twelve insecticides will be tested in our laboratory to identify which is the most appropriate for national flea control program.