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Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato (s.l.), the etiological agent of
Lyme disease, is transmitted by the bite of Ixodes ricinus. Four hundred eighty-nine ticks, collected in four locations of a region of southern Belgium where
Lyme disease is endemic, were examined for the presence of the spirochete. In a PCR test with primers that recognize a chromosomal gene of all strains, 23% of the ticks were found to be infected. The species B. burgdorferi s.l. comprises at least three pathogenic genomospecies, B. burgdorferi sensu stricto (s.s.), Borrelia garinii, and Borrelia afzelii, which could be distinguished in PCR tests with species-specific primers that correspond to distinct plasmid sequences. B. garinii was most prevalent (53% of infected ticks), followed by B. burgdorferi s.s. (38%) and B. afzelii (9%). Of the infected ticks, 40% were infected with a single species, 40% were infected with two species, and 5% were infected with all three species. For 15% of the ticks, the infecting species could not be identified. No difference in rates of prevalence was observed among the four locations, which had similar ground covers, even though they belonged to distinct biogeographic regions. A greater heterogeneity of spirochetal DNA in ticks than in cultured reference DNA was suggested by a comparison of the results of PCRs with two different sets of species-specific primer sequences.