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Concept: Ixodes

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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

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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

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Background. Deer tick virus is a tick-borne flavivirus that has only recently been appreciated as a cause of viral encephalitis.Methods. We describe the clinical presentation of a patient with deer tick virus encephalitis who was diagnosed premortem and who survived for 8 months despite severe neurologic dysfunction. Diagnosis was made on a cerebrospinal fluid specimen by a flavivirus-specific polymerase-chain-reaction assay followed by sequence confirmation. Serologic testing, including plaque reduction neutralization testing, was also performed. A phylogenetic study of this virus was performed.Results. Molecular analysis indicated that the virus was closely related to two strains of deer tick virus which had been detected in Ixodes scapularis ticks from Massachusetts and New York in 1996 and 2007 respectively.Conclusions. Deer tick virus encephalitis should be considered in the differential diagnosis of encephalitis in geographic areas that are endemic for Lyme disease.

Concepts: Medical terms, Lyme disease, Medical diagnosis, Tick, Acari, Ixodes scapularis, Babesiosis, Ixodes

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The recently described Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia mayonii is associated with human illness in the Upper Midwest of the United States. Experimental laboratory studies and field observations on natural infection indicate that B. mayonii is maintained by horizontal transmission between tick vectors and vertebrate reservoirs. While maintaining a colony of Ixodes scapularis Say (Acari: Ixodidae) ticks infected with the B. mayonii type strain (MN14-1420), we had an opportunity to examine whether infected females may pass this spirochete transovarially to their offspring. We found no evidence of B. mayonii infection in subsets of larvae originating from 18 infected I. scapularis females (grand total of 810 larvae tested), or in mice exposed to larval feeding.

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

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Borrelia miyamotoi is an increasingly recognized human pathogen transmitted by Ixodes ticks in the Northern Hemisphere. In North America, infection prevalences of B. miyamotoi are characteristically low (<10%) in Ixodes scapularis (Say; Acari: Ixodidae) and Ixodes pacificus (Cooley & Kohls; Acari: Ixodidae), both of which readily bite humans. We tested 3,255 host-seeking I. pacificus nymphs collected in 2004 from 79 sites throughout Mendocino County in north-coastal California for presence of B. miyamotoi. The collection sites represented a variety of forest types ranging from hot, dry oak woodlands in the southeast, to coastal redwoods in the west, and Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir-dominated areas in the northern part of the county. We found that B. miyamotoi was geographically widespread, but infected I. pacificus nymphs infrequently (cumulative prevalence of 1.4%). Infection prevalence was not significantly associated with geographic region or woodland type, and neither density of host-seeking nymphs, nor infection with Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto was associated with B. miyamotoi infection status in individual ticks. Because B. burgdorferi prevalence at the same sites was previously associated with woodland type and nymphal density, our results suggest that despite sharing a common vector, the primary modes of enzootic maintenance for the two pathogens are likely different.

Concepts: Bacteria, Parasites, Lyme disease, Tick, Acari, Ixodes scapularis, Borrelia burgdorferi, Ixodes

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A number of studies have assessed possible climate change impacts on the Lyme disease vector, Ixodes scapularis. However, most have used surface air temperature from only one climate model simulation and/or one emission scenario, representing only one possible climate future.

Concepts: Climate, Lyme disease, Climate change, Tick, Ixodes scapularis, Babesiosis, Ixodes, Vector

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The blacklegged tick Ixodes scapularis transmits Borrelia burgdorferi (sensu stricto) in eastern North America; however, the agent of Lyme disease is not the sole pathogen harbored by the blacklegged tick. The blacklegged tick is expanding its range into areas of southern Canada such as Ontario, an area where exposure to blacklegged tick bites and tick-borne pathogens is increasing. We performed a systematic review to evaluate the public health risks posed by expanding blacklegged tick populations and their associated pathogens.

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

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The Australian paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus) is of significant medical and veterinary importance as a cause of dermatological and neurological disease, yet there is currently limited information about the bacterial communities harboured by these ticks and the risk of infectious disease transmission to humans and domestic animals. Ongoing controversy about the presence of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato (the aetiological agent of Lyme disease) in Australia increases the need to accurately identify and characterise bacteria harboured by I. holocyclus ticks.

Concepts: Medicine, Bacteria, Microbiology, Lyme disease, Tick, Borrelia burgdorferi, Ixodes, Ixodes holocyclus

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Forests in urban landscapes differ from their rural counterparts in ways that may alter vector-borne disease dynamics. In urban forest fragments, tick-borne pathogen prevalence is not well characterized; mitigating disease risk in densely-populated urban landscapes requires understanding ecological factors that affect pathogen prevalence. We trapped blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) nymphs in urban forest fragments on the East Coast of the United States and used multiplex real-time PCR assays to quantify the prevalence of four zoonotic, tick-borne pathogens. We used Bayesian logistic regression and WAIC model selection to understand how vegetation, habitat, and landscape features of urban forests relate to the prevalence of B. burgdorferi (the causative agent of Lyme disease) among blacklegged ticks.

Concepts: Logistic regression, Bacteria, Lyme disease, Tick, Ixodes scapularis, Borrelia burgdorferi, Babesiosis, Ixodes

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Lyme borreliosis is increasing rapidly in many parts of the world and is the most commonly occurring vector-borne disease in Europe and the USA. The disease is transmitted by ticks of the genus Ixodes. They require a blood meal at each stage of their life cycle and feed on a wide variety of wild and domestic animals as well as birds and reptiles. Transmission to humans is incidental and can occur during visits to a vector habitat, when host mammals and their associated ticks migrate into the urban environment, or when companion animals bring ticks into areas of human habitation. It is frequently stated that the risk of infection is very low if the tick is removed within 24-48 hours, with some claims that there is no risk if an attached tick is removed within 24 hours or 48 hours. A literature review has determined that in animal models, transmission can occur in <16 hours, and the minimum attachment time for transmission of infection has never been established. Mechanisms for early transmission of spirochetes have been proposed based on their presence in different organs of the tick. Studies have found systemic infection and the presence of spirochetes in the tick salivary glands prior to feeding, which could result in cases of rapid transmission. Also, there is evidence that spirochete transmission times and virulence depend upon the tick and Borrelia species. These factors support anecdotal evidence that Borrelia infection can occur in humans within a short time after tick attachment.

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