Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) virus has a highly focal distribution through Eurasia. Endemic cycles appear to depend on the transmission of non-systemic infections between ticks co-feeding on the same rodent hosts. The particular features of seasonal dynamics and infestation patterns of larval and nymphal Ixodes ricinus, but not Dermacentor reticulatus, from 4 regions within TBE foci in Slovakia, are such as to promote TBE virus transmission. The distributions of larvae and nymphs on their principal rodent hosts are highly aggregated and, rather than being independent, the distributions of each stage are coincident so that the same ca. 20% of hosts feed about three-quarters of both larvae and nymphs. This results in twice the number of infectible larvae feeding alongside potentially infected nymphs compared with the null hypothesis of independent distributions. Overall, co-feeding transmission under these circumstances brings the reproductive number (R0) for TBE virus to a level that accounts quantitatively for maintained endemic cycles. Essential for coincident aggregated distributions of larvae and nymphs is their synchronous seasonal activity. Preliminary comparisons support the prediction of a greater degree of coincident seasonality within recorded TBE foci than outside. This identifies the particular climatic factors that permit such patterns of tick seasonal dynamics as the primary predictors for the focal distribution of TBE.
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