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Environmental determinants of Ixodes ricinus ticks and the incidence of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato, the agent of Lyme borreliosis, in Scotland

  • M. C. JAMES (a1) (a2) (a3), A. S. BOWMAN (a1), K. J. FORBES (a2), F. LEWIS (a4), J. E. MCLEOD (a3) and L. GILBERT (a3)...

Summary

Lyme borreliosis (LB) is the most common arthropod-borne disease of humans in the Northern hemisphere. In Europe, the causative agent, Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato complex, is principally vectored by Ixodes ricinus ticks. The aim of this study was to identify environmental factors influencing questing I. ricinus nymph abundance and B. burgdorferi s.l. infection in questing nymphs using a large-scale survey across Scotland. Ticks, host dung and vegetation were surveyed at 25 woodland sites, and climatic variables from a Geographical Information System (GIS) were extracted for each site. A total of 2397 10 m2 transect surveys were conducted and 13 250 I. ricinus nymphs counted. Questing nymphs were assayed for B. burgdorferi s.l. and the average infection prevalence was 5·6% (range 0·8–13·9%). More questing nymphs and higher incidence of B. burgdorferi s.l. infection were found in areas with higher deer abundance and in mixed/deciduous compared to coniferous forests, as well as weaker correlations with season, altitude, rainfall and ground vegetation. No correlation was found between nymph abundance and infection prevalence within the ranges encountered. An understanding of the environmental conditions associated with tick abundance and pathogen prevalence may be used to reduce risk of exposure and to predict future pathogen prevalence and distributions under environmental changes.

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Corresponding author

*Corresponding author:James Hutton Institute, Macaulay Drive, Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen AB15 8QH, UK. Tel: +44 (0)1224 395187. Fax: +44 (0) 844 928 5429. E-mail: Lucy.Gilbert@hutton.ac.uk

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