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Participation of birds (Aves) in the emergence of Lyme disease in southern Maine.

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By Rand PW, Lacombe EH, Smith RP Jr, Ficker J • • May 1, 1998


The contribution of migratory and resident birds to the introduction of Lyme disease will vary with the degree to which various species expose themselves to, and are infested by, juvenile vector ticks, and their ability to support and transmit the infectious agent. To examine the relative contribution of various passerine species during the emergence of this disease, we compared the abundance and infection rates of the blacklegged tick, Ixodes scapularis Say, removed from mist-netted birds with those from live-trapped mice at a coastal study site in southern Maine, collected during an 8-yr period in which the range of this tick and the incidence of Lyme disease increased in the state. Weekly bird-banding sessions using six 12-m Japanese mist nets were carried out from May through August 1989-1996. In 1989, 1991 and 1993, mice were live-trapped in a Sherman trap grid (7 by 7 m) during five 3-night sessions, June through August; in 1994-1996, 2 such grids were similarly trapped. Annual adult tick abundance was estimated by flagging vegetation. We removed 2,633 juvenile deer ticks from 1,713 of 1,972 birds examined. Twenty-five of 64 bird species were infested. The percentages of birds infested and the rate of infection among removed larvae and nymphs increased over the years, but species varied markedly in their ability to infect ticks. No infected larvae were removed from catbirds or towhees. The larval to nymphal ratio was higher in mice than in birds. Infection rates among bird-derived larvae were less than among mice-derived larvae, but increased with time. Because of the different ways in which individual species of passerine birds contribute to the availability of vector ticks and respond to the agent of Lyme disease in emerging areas, further research into host competency and borreliacidal mechanisms is needed.

J Med Entomol. 1998 May;35(3):270-6. Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't; Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

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