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Immature Ixodes scapularis infestation and Borrelia burgdorferi infection of wild small mammals were studied from June to October in 2007 and from May to October in 2008 at 71 study sites in a zone where I. scapularis populations and environmental
Lyme disease risk are emerging in southwestern Quebec. Seasonal host-seeking activity of immature I. scapularis was similar to patterns reported previously in Canada and the USA: nymphal activity peaked in spring while larval activity peaked in late summer. Synchronous activity of nymphs with some larvae was observed in late spring, which could favour establishment of B. burgdorferi strains that cause short-lived infections in their hosts. White-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus), deer mice (P. maniculatus), chipmunks (Tamias striatus), and red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) carried 92.0% of the larvae and 94.2% of the nymphs collected. Adult male white-footed mice carried significantly larger numbers of both larval and nymphal I. scapularis than other species and classes of small mammals (different demographic groups or physiological status: age, sex, sexual activity). We conclude that seasonality and host association were comparable to previous studies in North America, even in the context of a newly endemic pattern of low infection prevalence and low densities of host-seeking and feeding I. scapularis in southwestern Quebec. Our studies suggest that B. burgdorferi transmission cycles are focused on adult male mice (which carried 35% of all feeding ticks collected in the study), so control methods targeting this class of hosts may be particularly effective. However, our study also suggested that habitats containing a diverse host structure may dilute transmission cycles by partitioning of nymphal and larval ticks on different host species.
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