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Lyme borreliosis in Canada: biological diversity and diagnostic complexity from an entomological perspective

  • Janet L.H. Sperling (a1) and Felix A.H. Sperling (a1)

Lyme borreliosis (LB), also known as Lyme disease, is emerging as a serious tickborne illness across Canada. More than three decades of research on LB in North America and Europe have provided a large, complex body of research involving well-documented difficulties at several levels. However, entomologists are well situated to contribute to resolving some of these challenges. The central pathogen in LB, the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi Johnson et al., includes numerous genospecies and strains that are associated with different disease symptoms and distributions. The primary vectors of LB are ticks of various Ixodes Latreille species (Acari: Ixodida: Ixodidae), but questions linger concerning the status of a number of other arthropods that may be infected with B. burgdorferi but do not transmit it biologically. A variety of vertebrates may serve as reservoirs for LB, but differences in their ability to transmit LB are not well understood at the community level. Persistent cystic forms of and immune system evasion by B. burgdorferi contribute to extraordinary challenges in diagnosing LB. Multiple trade-offs constrain the effectiveness of assays like ELISA, Western blot, polymerase chain reaction, and microscopic visualization of the spirochetes. Consequently, opportunities abound for entomologists to contribute to documenting the diversity of the players and their interactions in this devilishly complex disease.


La borréliose de Lyme (LB), connue aussi sous le nom de maladie de Lyme, est en train de devenir une importante maladie transmise par les tiques dans l’ensemble du Canada. Les recherches au cours de plus de trois décennies sur LB en Amérique du Nord et en Europe ont fourni un ensemble considérable et complexe de travaux qui comporte des problèmes bien identifiés à diffe´rents niveaux. Les entomologistes sont, cependant, bien placés pour contribuer à solutionner certains de ces défis. Le pathogène principal de LB, le spirochète Borrelia burgdorferi Johnson et al., englobe plusieurs espèces génétiques et souches qui sont associées à des symptômes et des répartitions différentes de la maladie. Les vecteurs principaux de LB sont des tiques de différentes espèces d’Ixodes Latreille (Acari: Ixodida: Ixodidae), mais il reste des questions concernant le statut de plusieurs autres arthropodes qui peuvent être infectés par B. burgdorferi, mais qui ne le transmettent pas biologiquement. Divers vertébrés peuvent servir de réservoirs pour LB, mais les différences relatives dans leur capacité à transmettre LB ne sont pas bien comprises au niveau de la communauté. Les formes kystiques persistantes et l’évasion du système immunitaire chez B. burgdorferi rendent le diagnostic de LB extraordinairement compliqué. De nombreux compromis limitent l’efficacité de tests biologiques, tels que la méthode ELISA, le buvardage western, l’amplification en chaîne par polymérase et la visualisation des spirochètes au microscope. En conséquence, il existe de multiples occasions our les entomologistes de contribuer à l’étude de la diversité des intervenants et de leurs interactions dans cette maladie diablement complexe.

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The Canadian Entomologist
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