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The reservoir competence of passerine birds for the
Lyme borreliosis spirochetes was studied in an enzootic focus in Switzerland. Skin aspirates and skin biopsies were used to isolate Borrelia spirochetes from Turdus species. B. burgdorferi sensu lato was isolated and/or PCR-detected in BSK medium containing skin biopsy or skin aspirate from 5 blackbirds (T. merula) and one song thrush (T. philomelos). Seven isolates were obtained from 3 different blackbirds. Either B. garinii or Borrelia from the genomic group VS116 was found in bird skin samples. Mixed infection occurred in 2 cases. Tick xenodiagnosis was used to determine whether blackbirds transmitted Borrelia to ticks. Five xenodiagnoses were performed on 3 different blackbirds. Borrelia DNA was detected in BSK medium inoculated with xenodiagnostic ticks from all the passerines tested. Isolates cultured from xenodiagnostic ticks were obtained from 2 blackbirds. Isolates belonged to group VS116 (n = 10) and to B. garinii (n = 1). Our study has shown that Turdus sp. are infected by B. garinii and by Borrelia from group VS116 and that blackbirds are implicated as reservoirs for these 2 genomic groups of Borrelia, as they transmit living borreliae to ticks. An association seems to exist between birds and Borrelia VS116, and to a lesser extent, B. garinii, similar to the association existing between small rodents and B. afzelii. Our observations emphasize the fact that different enzootic cycles maintain
Lyme borreliosis spirochetes in nature.