Acarologic risk of exposure to Borrelia burgdorferi spirochaetes: long-term evaluations in north-western California, with implications for Lyme borreliosis risk-assessment models

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Over a 5-year period (1997–2001) the population densities of Ixodes pacificus Cooley & Kohls (Acari: Ixodidae) nymphs infected with spirochaetes of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato (s.l.) were evaluated in areas of 2000 ha at two localities (CHR, nine sites; HREC, seven sites) 25 km apart in Mendocino County, north-western California. The 5-year median density of infected nymphs was significantly higher at CHR than at HREC (0.51 vs. 0.09 per 100 m2) and site-specific yearly densities exceeding one infected nymph per 100 m2 were 10-fold more likely to occur at CHR than at HREC. The importance of long-term data in acarologic risk assessment was demonstrated by significantly higher median yearly densities of infected nymphs at CHR from 1997 to 1999, whereas both areas had similar densities during 2000–2001.Overall, the causative agent of Lyme borreliosis in North America, B. burgdorferi Johnson et al. sensu stricto (s.s.) accounted for 76% of 46 genetically characterized B. burgdorferi s.l. infections from I. pacificus nymphs. Tremendous variability in acarologic risk was recorded within both areas: yearly densities of infected nymphs varied 11–97-fold between sites at CHR and 8–30-fold at HREC. Part of this variation could be explained by environmental traits, most notably deer usage. However, correlations between environmental factors and density of infected nymphs (for CHR and HREC combined) did not necessarily apply when these areas were considered separately. Thus, a Lyme borreliosis ecology model developed in one of these areas needs testing in the other area.

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