Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne
disease in the United States and is transmitted by Borrelia burgdorferi-infected Ixodes species. The
disease is typically characterized by an erythema migrans (EM) rash at the site of tick feeding. EM rashes have also been associated with feeding by Amblyomma americanum ticks despite evidence suggesting that they are incompetent vectors for
Lyme disease. In 1996, a Borrelia organism only recently cultivated in the laboratory was described in A. americanum ticks and designated B. lonestari. This Borrelia is believed to be the etiologic agent of a novel
disease, southern tick associated rash illness (STARI). This study examined ticks collected from eight eastern states to evaluate the epidemiology of B. lonestari, B. burgdorferi, and their tick hosts. Three hundred individual or small pool samples were evaluated from tick genera that included Amblyomma, Ixodes, and Dermacentor. DNA was extracted following tick homogenization and the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was performed using primers derived from the flagellin gene that amplify sequences from both B. burgdorferi and B. lonestari. Species specific digoxigenin labeled probes were designed and used to differentiate between B. burgdorferi and B. lonestari. Borrelia DNA was detected in approximately 10% of the A. americanum and I. scapularis tick samples, but none was present in any of the Dermacentor samples tested. Positive samples were detected in ticks collected from Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia. This is the first known report of B. lonestari from Massachusetts and New York and the first detection in I. scapularis. This suggests that B. lonestari and its putative association with STARI may be more widespread than previously thought.