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To determine whether deer may play a role in the cycle of the
Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi, we sought evidence for the presence of the pathogen in skin of deer and roe deer. Biopsies of 2 mm3 were taken at four different levels from nail to tarsus. A total of 50 animals (200 biopsies) were shot in the
Lyme disease foci of Rambouillet during the hunting season 1995-1996 and 1996-1997, from the beginning of November to the end of February. Borrelia burgdorferi s.l. DNA was detected by PCR in 18 biopsies from 14 animals (28%). Borrelia burgdorferi s.str. was predominant (50%), followed by B. garinii (30%) and B. afzelii (10%). Multiple infections were detected in four animals: same species at different levels or two different species from the same biopsy or from different biopsies from the same foot. A total of 125 biopsies were cultivated on BSKH medium. Cultures at 160 days revealed immobile spiralled forms in 10 cultures. One, from a deer killed at the end of December, was confirmed by PCR as B. burgdorferi s.str. These results, frequency of detection of spirochetes by PCR in the skin, multiple infections and alive spirochetes in biopsies taken out side the season of activity of ticks strongly suggest an affinity of
Lyme disease spirochetes for skin of cervids.