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J Med Entomol. 1995 Nov;32(6):807-17.

Infestation of rodents with larval Ixodes ricinus (Acari: Ixodidae) is an important factor in the transmission cycle of Borrelia burgdorferi s.l. in German woodlands.

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University of Oxford, Department of Zoology, UK.


The ecology of Borrelia burgdorferi Johnson et al. s.l. was investigated from 1987 to 1993 in a preserved woodland in western Germany near Bonn. In selected biotopes, host-seeking Ixodes ricinus L. were regularly collected by blanket dragging in 1987, 1988, and 1989 and screened for infection with B. burgdorferi. Rodents were trapped monthly between April and October in 1988, 1990, 1991, and in the winter of 1992-1993, examined for antibodies to B. burgdorferi s.l., and inspected for feeding ticks. Ticks collected from rodents were screened for spirochete infection. High numbers of host-seeking nymphs were consistently collected within a biotope characterized by humid and acid soils. The mean number of ticks was significantly lower in biotopes with permeable soils. All small mammals captured belonged to the species Apodemus flavicollis Melchior, A. sylvaticus L., and Clethrionomys glareolus Schreber. Of 11,680 ticks obtained from rodents, 11,674 were I. ricinus, with 97.9% of the ticks being larvae, 2.0% nymphs, and 0.1% females. Mean numbers of feeding ticks ranged from 3.4 to 117 larvae per rodent and from 0.0 to 0.64 nymph per rodent, respectively. High levels of larval infestation on rodents were recorded in the same biotope where high numbers of host-seeking nymphs were present. Members of the genus Apodemus were more heavily infested with I. ricinus larvae than C. glareolus. The mean infection prevalence in host-seeking ticks was found to be 1% for larvae, 5% for nymphs, and 10-20% for adults. The infection prevalence in host-seeking nymphs ranged from 1.1 to 15.4% according to the particular biotope. The values for specific infectivity for the Apodemus populations were positively correlated with the mean larval infestation, but not with nymphal infestation. The respective estimates for C. glareolus were much higher than those for Apodemus spp. in biotopes with low tick densities. However, specific infectivity of C. glareolus was substantially reduced at sites with high tick abundances. In biotopes with high numbers of infected I. ricinus, significantly more rodents were found to have antibodies to B. burgdorferi than in biotopes with low abundances of ticks. The data show that C. glareolus plays a different role as reservoir host species compared with the 2 Apodemus species. This and previous studies suggest that the degree of infestation with larval I. ricinus differentially modulates infectivity of host species for ticks. We conclude that immune processes in natural reservoir hosts induced by B. burgdorferi or I. ricinus bites (or both) are important regulatory factors in the transmission cycle(s) of B. burgdorferi.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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