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Med Vet Entomol. 2001 Mar;15(1):40-9.

Risk factors in habitats of the tick Ixodes ricinus influencing human exposure to Ehrlichia phagocytophila bacteria.

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Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, Scotland.


Ixodes ricinus L. (Acari: Ixodida) were sampled during 1996-99 in southern Scotland, on vegetation using cloth drags, on humans by removal from clothing and on roe deer (Capreolus capreolus L.) by searching legs of culled deer. Developmental microclimate was recorded by automatic recorders and questing microclimate by portable instruments during tick collections. Ticks and deer were examined for infection with Ehrlichia phagocytophila bacteria (Rickettsiales) using microscopy and polymerase chain reaction. This pathogen causes tick-borne fever of sheep in Europe and human granulocytic ehrlichiosis in North America, but in Europe human clinical ehrlichiosis due to E. phagocytophila has not been recorded despite serological evidence of exposure. Among three types of habitat, coniferous woodland was most infested with questing ticks (560 ticks/km of drag; mean numbers collected on long trousers: 24.3 larvae, 13.5 nymphs and 0.8 adult ticks/km walked), deciduous woodland had slightly lower infestation (426 ticks/km drag) and upland sheep pasture had much lower infestation (220 ticks/km drag). Of the three main vegetation types, bracken was least infested (360 ticks/km drag), ericas most (430 ticks/km drag) and grassland had intermediate infestation density (413 ticks/km drag). Questing and developmental microclimates were poor predictors of exposure within these habitats, except lower infestation of pastures was attributed to greater illumination there. Collectors who walked a total of 300 km through all habitats (taking 360 h in all seasons), wearing cotton trousers hanging outside rubber boots, were bitten by only four nymphs and 11 larvae of I. ricinus (but no adult ticks). There was a negative correlation between densities of deer and ticks collected, although presence of deer remains a major indicator of exposure. The proportion of infected ticks was fairly uniform at four sites studied. Overall prevalence of E. phagocytophila in I. ricinus was 3.3% in nymphs (40/1203) but only approximately 1.5% in adults of both sexes (although males do not bite). It was estimated that nymphs of I. ricinus gave 4.4% probability of one infected bite/person/year (for occupational exposure during this research) due to presence in all seasons and habitats, their human biting rate of 0.011 nymphs/h or 0.013 nymphs/km and widespread infection with E. phagocytophila. The frequency distribution of intensity of infection in ticks was approximately normal (mean 98 morulae/nymph infected), thus there is a high risk of receiving a high dose from any one infected tick bite.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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