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Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis. 2001 Fall;1(3):197-210.

Acarologic risk of exposure to emerging tick-borne bacterial pathogens in a semirural community in northern California.

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Division of Insect Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


An acarologic study was conducted in a semirural community in northern California to determine the relative abundance of, and the prevalence of infection with, three emerging bacterial pathogens in the western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus). These included the agents causing Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi), human granulocytic ehrlichiosis [Ehrlichia phagocytophila (formerly Ehrlichia equi)], and human monocytic ehrlichiosis (Ehrlichia chaffeensis). The study area in Sonoma County consisted of two properties each with four residents and an uninhabited adjacent comparison area. Six of the eight residents had been either physician-diagnosed or serodiagnosed previously with Lyme disease, and, of these, one also had been serodiagnosed with human monocytic ehrlichiosis. Direct immunofluorescent/culture assays and bacterial species-specific polymerase chain reaction assays were used to test whole ticks individually for presence of B. burgdorferi and Ehrlichia spp., respectively. Overall, 6.5% of the nymphal (n = 589) and 1.6% of the adult ticks (n = 318) from the same generational cohort were found to contain B. burgdorferi. In contrast, none of 465 nymphs and 9.9% of 202 adults were infected with E. phagocytophila. Excised tissues from another 95 adult ticks yielded a comparable E. phagocytophila infection prevalence of 13.7%. E. chaffeensis was not detected in either nymphal or adult ticks. Using a combination of culture and polymerase chain reaction assays, coinfection of I. pacificus adults with B. burgdorferi and E. phagocytophila was demonstrated for the first time. The marked disparity in the infection prevalence of these pathogens in nymphal and adult ticks suggests that their maintenance cycles are inherently different.

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