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The risk of exposure to
Lyme disease in the province of Trento, Italian Alps, was predicted through the analysis of the distribution of Ixodes ricinus (L.) nymphs infected with Borrelia burgdorferi s.l. with a model based on bootstrap aggregation (bagging) of tree-based classifiers within a geographical information system (GIS). Data on L ricinus density assessed by dragging the vegetation in 438 sites during 1996 were cross-correlated with the digital cartography of a GIS, which included the variables altitude, exposure and slope, substratum, vegetation type and roe deer density. Ticks were more abundant at altitudes below 1,300 m a.s.l., in the presence of limestone and vegetation cover with thermophile deciduous forests and high densities of roe deer. A bootstrap aggregation procedure (bagging) was used to produce a model for the prediction of tick occurrence, the accuracy of which was tested on actual tick counts assessed by a further dragging campaign carried out during 1997 to determine infection prevalence and resulted in average 77%. Other tests of the model were made on additional and independent data sets. The prevalence of infection with Borrelia burgdorferi s.l, determined by polymerase chain reaction on 2,208 nymphs collected by random dragging in 245 transects selected within eight areas where the model predicted the occurrence of I. ricinus during 1997, was 17.5% and was positively correlated to tick abundance and roe deer density. These findings were used to relate the output of the bagged model (probability of tick occurrence) to the density of infected nymphs through a stepwise model selection procedure and thus to produce a GIS digital map of the probability distribution of infected nymphs in the Province of Trento at high resolution scale (50 by 50-m cell resolution). The application of the bagging procedure increased the accuracy of the prediction made by a single classification tree, a well-known classification method for the analysis of epidemiological data.