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Concept: Ixodes scapularis


Comparative analysis of ospC genes from 127 Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto strains collected in Lyme disease endemic and non-endemic European and North American regions revealed close relatedness of geographically distinct populations. OspC alleles A, B and L were detected on both continents in vectors and hosts including humans. Six ospC alleles, A, B, L, Q, R and V, were prevalent in Europe; 4 of them were detected in samples of human origin. Ten ospC alleles, A, B, D, E3, F, G, H, H3, I3 and M, were identified in the far-western U.S.A. Four ospC alleles, B, G, H and L, were abundant in the southeastern U.S.A. Here we present the first expanded analysis of ospC alleles of B. burgdorferi strains from the southeastern U.S.A with respect to their relatedness to strains from other North American and European localities. We demonstrate that ospC genotypes commonly associated with human Lyme disease in endemic European and North American regions were detected in B. burgdorferi strains isolated from non-human biting tick Ixodes affinis and rodent hosts in southeastern U.S.A. We discovered that some ospC alleles previously known only from Europe are widely distributed in the southeastern U.S.A., a finding that confirms the hypothesis of trans-oceanic migration of Borrelia species.

Concepts: Bacteria, Lyme disease, Ixodes scapularis, North America, Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia, Allen Steere, Willy Burgdorfer


BACKGROUND: Candidatus Neoehrlichia mikurensis (CNM) has been described in the hard tick Ixodes ricinus and rodents as well as in some severe cases of human disease. The aims of this study were to identify DNA of CNM in small mammals, the ticks parasitizing them and questing ticks in areas with sympatric existence of Ixodes ricinus and Dermacentor reticulatus in Germany. METHODS: Blood, transudate and organ samples (spleen, kidney, liver, skin) of 91 small mammals and host-attached ticks from altogether 50 small mammals as well as questing I. ricinus ticks (n=782) were screened with a real-time PCR for DNA of CNM. RESULTS: 52.7% of the small mammals were positive for CNM-DNA. The majority of the infected animals were yellow-necked mice (Apodemus flavicollis) and bank voles (Myodes glareolus). Small mammals with tick infestation were more often infected with CNM than small mammals without ticks. Compared with the prevalence of ~25% in the questing I. ricinus ticks, twice the prevalence in the rodents provides evidence for their role as reservoir hosts for CNM. CONCLUSION: The high prevalence of this pathogen in the investigated areas in both rodents and ticks points towards the need for more specific investigation on its role as a human pathogen.

Concepts: Lyme disease, Mammal, Rodent, Ixodidae, Acari, Ixodes scapularis, Dermacentor variabilis, Ixodes holocyclus


Powassan virus (POWV) is an emerging tick-borne arbovirus presenting a public health threat in North America. POWV lineage II, also known as deer tick virus, is the strain of the virus most frequently found in Ixodes scapularis ticks and is implicated in most cases of POWV encephalitis in the United States. Currently, no commercial tests are available to detect POWV exposure in tick-borne disease (TBD) patients. We describe here the development and analytical validation of a serologic test panel to detect POWV infections. The panel uses an indirect enzyme immunoassay (EIA) to screen. EIA-positive samples reflex to a laboratory-developed, POWV-specific immunofluorescence assay (IFA). The analytical sensitivity of the test panel was 89%, and the limit of detection was a plaque reduction neutralization test (PRNT) titer of 1:20. The analytical specificity was 100% for the IgM assay and 65% for the IgG assay when heterologous-flavivirus-positive samples were tested. On samples collected from regions where Lyme disease is endemic, seroprevalence for POWV in TBD samples was 9.4% (10 of 106) versus 2% when tested with non-TBD samples (2 of 100, P = 0.034). No evidence of POWV infection was seen in samples collected from a region where Lyme disease was not endemic (0 of 22). This test panel provides a sensitive and specific platform for detecting a serologic response to POWV early in the course of infection when neutralizing antibodies may not be detectable. Combined with clinical history, the panel is an effective tool for identifying acute POWV infection. IMPORTANCE Approximately 100 cases of POWV disease were reported in the United States over the past 10 years. Most cases have occurred in the Northeast (52) and Great Lakes (45) regions ( The prevalence of POWV in ticks and mammals is increasing, and POWV poses an increasing threat in a greater geographical range. In areas of the Northeast and Midwest where Lyme disease is endemic, POWV testing is recommended for patients with a recent tick bite, patients with Lyme disease who have been treated with antibiotics, or patients with a tick exposure who have tested negative for Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses and have persistent symptoms consistent with posttreatment Lyme disease. Testing could also benefit patients with tick exposure and unexplained neurologic symptoms and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) patients with known tick exposure. Until now, diagnostic testing for Powassan virus has not been commercially available and has been limited to patients presenting with severe, neurologic complications. The lack of routine testing for Powassan virus in patients with suspected tick-borne disease means that little information is available regarding the overall prevalence of the virus and the full spectrum of clinical symptoms associated with infection. As Ixodes scapularis is the tick vector for Powassan virus and multiple other tick-borne pathogens, including the Lyme disease bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, the clinical presentations and long-term outcomes of Powassan virus infection and concurrent infection with other tick-borne disease pathogens remain unknown.

Concepts: Antibody, Bacteria, Lyme disease, Tick, Ixodes scapularis, Babesiosis, Chronic fatigue syndrome, Tick-borne disease


The blacklegged tick, Ixodes scapularis Say, is the primary vector to humans in the eastern United States of the Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi, as well as causative agents of anaplasmosis and babesiosis. Its close relative in the far western United States, the western blacklegged tick Ixodes pacificus Cooley and Kohls, is the primary vector to humans in that region of the Lyme disease and anaplasmosis agents. Since 1991, when standardized surveillance and reporting began, Lyme disease case counts have increased steadily in number and in geographical distribution in the eastern United States. Similar trends have been observed for anaplasmosis and babesiosis. To better understand the changing landscape of risk of human exposure to disease agents transmitted by I. scapularis and I. pacificus, and to document changes in their recorded distribution over the past two decades, we updated the distribution of these species from a map published in 1998. The presence of I. scapularis has now been documented from 1,420 (45.7%) of the 3,110 continental United States counties, as compared with 111 (3.6%) counties for I. pacificus. Combined, these vectors of B. burgdorferi and other disease agents now have been identified in a total of 1,531 (49.2%) counties spread across 43 states. This marks a 44.7% increase in the number of counties that have recorded the presence of these ticks since the previous map was presented in 1998, when 1,058 counties in 41 states reported the ticks to be present. Notably, the number of counties in which I. scapularis is considered established (six or more individuals or one or more life stages identified in a single year) has more than doubled since the previous national distribution map was published nearly two decades ago. The majority of county status changes occurred in the North-Central and Northeastern states, whereas the distribution in the South remained fairly stable. Two previously distinct foci for I. scapularis in the Northeast and North-Central states appear to be merging in the Ohio River Valley to form a single contiguous focus. Here we document a shifting landscape of risk for human exposure to medically important ticks and point to areas of re-emergence where enhanced vector surveillance and control may be warranted.

Concepts: Lyme disease, Tick, Acari, Ixodes scapularis, Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia, Babesiosis, Ixodes


Recent reports suggest that host-seeking nymphs in southern populations of Ixodes scapularis remain below the leaf litter surface, while northern nymphs seek hosts on leaves and twigs above the litter surface. This behavioral difference potentially results in decreased tick contact with humans in the south, and fewer cases of Lyme disease. We studied whether north-south differences in tick survival patterns might contribute to this phenomenon. Four month old larvae resulting from a cross between Wisconsin males and South Carolina females died faster under southern than under northern conditions in the lab, as has previously been reported for ticks from both northern and southern populations. However, newly-emerged larvae from Rhode Island parents did not differ consistently in mortality under northern and southern conditions, possibly because of their younger age. Survival is lower, and so the north-south survival difference might be greater in older ticks. Larval survival was positively related to larval size (as measured by scutal area), while survival was positively related to larval fat content in some, but not all, trials. The difference in larval survival under northern vs. southern conditions might simply result from faster metabolism under warmer southern conditions leading to shorter life spans. However, ticks consistently died faster under southern than under northern conditions in the laboratory when relative humidity was low (75%), but not under moderate (85%) or high (95%) RH. Therefore, mortality due to desiccation stress is greater under southern than under northern conditions. We hypothesize that mortality resulting from the greater desiccation stress under southern conditions acts as a selective pressure resulting in the evolution of host-seeking behavior in which immatures remain below the leaf litter surface in southern I. scapularis populations, so as to avoid the desiccating conditions at the surface. If this hypothesis is correct, it has implications for the effect of climate change on the future distribution of Lyme disease.

Concepts: Lyme disease, Relative humidity, Tick, Ixodes scapularis, Babesiosis, Ixodes, Vector, Tick-borne disease


Ticks are the major vectors of most disease-causing agents to humans, companion animals and wildlife. Moreover, ticks transmit a greater variety of pathogenic agents than any other blood-feeding arthropod. Ticks have been expanding their geographic ranges in recent decades largely due to climate change. Furthermore, tick populations in many areas of their past and even newly established localities have increased in abundance. These dynamic changes present new and increasing severe public health threats to humans, livestock and companion animals in areas where they were previously unknown or were considered to be of minor importance. Here in this review, the geographic status of four representative tick species are discussed in relation to these public health concerns, namely, the American dog tick,Dermacentor variabilis, the lone star tick,Amblyomma americanum, the Gulf Coast Tick,Amblyomma maculatumand the black-legged tick,Ixodes scapularis. Both biotic and abiotic factors that may influence future range expansion and successful colony formation in new habitats are discussed.

Concepts: Lyme disease, Tick, Ixodes scapularis, Arachnid, North America, Dog, Biotic component, Abiotic component


Evidence-based guidelines for the management of patients with Lyme disease were developed by the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS). The guidelines address three clinical questions - the usefulness of antibiotic prophylaxis for known tick bites, the effectiveness of erythema migrans treatment and the role of antibiotic retreatment in patients with persistent manifestations of Lyme disease. Healthcare providers who evaluate and manage patients with Lyme disease are the intended users of the new ILADS guidelines, which replace those issued in 2004 (Exp Rev Anti-infect Ther 2004;2:S1-13). These clinical practice guidelines are intended to assist clinicians by presenting evidence-based treatment recommendations, which follow the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation system. ILADS guidelines are not intended to be the sole source of guidance in managing Lyme disease and they should not be viewed as a substitute for clinical judgment nor used to establish treatment protocols.

Concepts: Evaluation, Lyme disease, Tick, Ixodes scapularis, Erythema chronicum migrans, International Lyme And Associated Diseases Society


Arthropods transmit diverse infectious agents; however, the ways microbes influence their vector to enhance colonization are poorly understood. Ixodes scapularis ticks harbor numerous human pathogens, including Anaplasma phagocytophilum, the agent of human granulocytic anaplasmosis. We now demonstrate that A. phagocytophilum modifies the I. scapularis microbiota to more efficiently infect the tick. A. phagocytophilum induces ticks to express Ixodes scapularis antifreeze glycoprotein (iafgp), which encodes a protein with several properties, including the ability to alter bacterial biofilm formation. IAFGP thereby perturbs the tick gut microbiota, which influences the integrity of the peritrophic matrix and gut barrier-critical obstacles for Anaplasma colonization. Mechanistically, IAFGP binds the terminal d-alanine residue of the pentapeptide chain of bacterial peptidoglycan, resulting in altered permeability and the capacity of bacteria to form biofilms. These data elucidate the molecular mechanisms by which a human pathogen appropriates an arthropod antibacterial protein to alter the gut microbiota and more effectively colonize the vector.

Concepts: Immune system, Archaea, Bacteria, Microbiology, Infection, Lyme disease, Biofilm, Ixodes scapularis


Ectotherms in northern latitudes are seasonally exposed to cold temperatures. To improve survival under cold stress, they use diverse mechanisms to increase temperature resistance and prevent tissue damage. The accumulation of anti-freeze proteins that improve cold hardiness occurs in diverse species including plants, arthropods, fish, and amphibians. We previously identified an Ixodes scapularis anti-freeze glycoprotein, named IAFGP, and demonstrated its cold protective function in the natural tick host and in a transgenic Drosophila model. Here we show, in a transgenic mouse model expressing an anti-freeze glycoprotein, that IAFGP protects mammalian cells and mice from cold shock and frostbite respectively. Transgenic skin samples showed reduced cell death upon cold storage ex vivo and transgenic mice demonstrated increased resistance to frostbite injury in vivo. IAFGP actively protects mammalian tissue from freezing, suggesting its application for the prevention of frostbite, and other diseases associated with cold exposure.

Concepts: Gene expression, Molecular biology, Horizontal gene transfer, Temperature, Protection, Ixodes scapularis, Genetically modified organism, Cold


Habitat heterogeneity influences pathogen ecology by affecting vector abundance and the reservoir host communities. We investigated spatial patterns of disease risk for two human pathogens in the Borrelia genus-B. burgdorferi and B. miyamotoi-that are transmitted by the western black-legged tick, Ixodes pacificus. We collected ticks (349 nymphs, 273 adults) at 20 sites in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA. Tick abundance, pathogen prevalence and density of infected nymphs varied widely across sites and habitat type, though nymphal western black-legged ticks were more frequently found, and were more abundant in coast live oak forest and desert/semi-desert scrub (dominated by California sagebrush) habitats. We observed Borrelia infections in ticks at all sites where we able to collect >10 ticks. The recently recognized human pathogen, B. miyamotoi, was observed at a higher prevalence (13/349 nymphs = 3.7%, 95% CI = 2.0-6.3; 5/273 adults = 1.8%, 95% CI = 0.6-4.2) than recent studies from nearby locations (Alameda County, east of the San Francisco Bay), demonstrating that tick-borne disease risk and ecology can vary substantially at small geographic scales, with consequences for public health and disease diagnosis.

Concepts: Disease, Infection, Lyme disease, California, Ixodes scapularis, San Francisco Bay Area, San Francisco, San Francisco Bay