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Foci of tick-borne diseases in southwest Germany.

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Presently known tick-borne diseases in Germany include
Lyme borreliosis, tick-borne encephalitis (TBE-virus, western subtype), Q-fever, babesiosis and presumably ehrlichiosis. Blood samples of 4,368 forestry workers in the State of Baden-Wuerttemberg (B-W), southwestern Germany, were tested for the presence of antibodies against Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato, TBE-virus and Ehrlichia spp. (genogroup E. phagocytophila). Furthermore 12,327 ticks (Ixodes ricinus) collected in various areas of B-W were analysed by PCR and genotyping for the prevalence of pathogen RNA and DNA. The human seroprevalence rates of antibodies to B. burgdorferi sensu lato ranged from 18% to 52%, for TBE-virus from 0% to 43% and for Ehrlichia spp. from 5% to 16% in various counties of the State. The foci of B. burgdorferi and TBE-virus as indicated by antibody prevalence in humans are only partly overlapping with each other. The highest rates of TBE-virus antibodies are in concordance with available clinical data. However antibody prevalence up to 27% in areas with no reports of clinical cases was found, suggesting that TBE occurs throughout the State of B-W. The prevalence of Ehrlichia spp. antibodies suggests that ehrlichiosis plays a role as a tick-borne
disease in Germany, but as long as no clinical data are available, this will remain unclear. Investigations of ticks for TBE-virus (n = 9,189) by nested PCR showed prevalence rates from 0% to 2.3% and for Ehrlichia spp. (n = 1,963) from 2.6% to 3.1%. Examination of ticks (n = 3,138) for the presence of B. burgdorferi sensu lato DNA was performed by PCR and revealed prevalence rates from 13.9% up to 24%. Furthermore 1,106 samples positive for B. burgdorferi sensu lato were used for genotyping. B. afzelii DNA was found in 407 ticks (36.8%), followed by B. garinii (21.9%), B. valaisiana (13.7%), and B. burgdorferi sensu stricto (9.9%). Double infection was found in 6.4% and triple infection in 0.8% of the ticks. 10.5% of the positive samples could not be classified. Prevention of tick-borne diseases has to focus on behavioural intervention to reduce individual tick exposure by proper behaviour in the environment, as a large-scale control of the tick population seems impossible and thus reduction of
Lyme borreliosis and TBE through tick control is unlikely. Vaccination against TBE-virus should not only be recommended for high endemic areas but also for persons with a high individual risk.

Int J Med Microbiol. 2002 Jun;291 Suppl 33:22-9. Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov’t

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