Background. Understanding the variation in prevalence of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato (Lyme Borreliosis Spirochaetes, LBS) and Anaplasma phagocytophilum (causing tick-borne fever in ruminants and human granulocytic ehrlichiosis) in ticks is vital from both a human and an animal disease perspective to target the most effective mitigation measures. From the host competence hypothesis, we predicted that prevalence of LBS would decrease with red deer density, while prevalence of A. phagocytophilum would increase.
Methods. Based on a sample of 112 adult and 686 nymphal Ixodes ricinus ticks collected with flagging during questing from 31 transects (4–500 m long) corresponding to individual seasonal home ranges of 41 red deer along the west coast of Norway, we tested whether there were spatial and seasonal variations in prevalence with a special emphasis on the population density of the most common large host in this area, the red deer (Cervus elaphus). We used a multiplex real-time PCR assay for detection of A. phagocytophilum and LBS.
Results. Prevalence of LBS was higher in adult female ticks (21.6%) compared to adult male ticks (11.5%) and nymphs (10.9%), while prevalence was similar among stages for prevalence of A. phagocytophilum (8.8%). Only partly consistent with predictions, we found a lower prevalence of LBS in areas of high red deer density, while there was no relationship between red deer density and prevalence of A. phagocytophilum in ticks. Prevalence of both bacteria was much higher in ticks questing in May compared to August.
Conclusions. Our study provides support to the notion that spatial variation in host composition forms a role for prevalence of LBS in ticks also in a northern European ecosystem, while no such association was found for A. phagocytophilum. Further studies are needed to fully understand the similar seasonal pattern of prevalence of the two pathogens.