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Host-seeking behavior of Ixodes pacificus (Acari: Ixodidae) nymphs in relation to environmental parameters in dense-woodland and woodland-grass habitats.

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Abstract

In the far-western United States, the bacteria that cause
Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi, Bb) and human granulocytic anaplasmosis (Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Ap) are transmitted by the western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus). In a dense woodland, human behaviors involving contact with wood were recently found to pose greater risk for encountering I. pacificus nymphs than behaviors entailing exclusive exposure to leaf litter. A four-year follow-up study was undertaken in the same woodland and, as a comparison area in one year only, in a nearby woodland-grass habitat to explore the biotic and abiotic factors that might elevate human exposure to host-seeking nymphs. Nymphs were active in the dense woodland throughout the daytime, but no consistent pattern of activity was observed with respect to time of day, temperature, or relative humidity. Significantly more nymphs were collected from the southern aspects of dense-woodland trunks than from other aspects, and more nymphs quested at a height of < or = 1 m vs 1-2 m aboveground. The prevalence of bacterial infection in ticks from the dense woodland was highly variable among years, with maxima of 22.6% and 42.9% for Bb, and 15.6% and 1.8% for Ap, in nymphs from logs and trunks, respectively. The mean densities of nymphs, and of Bb- or Ap-infected nymphs, were typically higher on logs and trunks than in adjoining leaf litter or grass in both habitats. The acarologic risk of encountering an infected nymph on dense-woodland logs or trunks was 2.8 to 11 times higher for Bb than for Ap in two of three years, and it was usually higher in dense woodland than in woodland-grass for both agents. Coinfections were rare (0.27%, n = 369 nymphs from both habitats). Individuals having prolonged contact with logs or trunks in spring would be well advised to employ personal protective measures to minimize exposure to I. pacificus nymphs and their attendant bacterial zoonotic agents.

J Vector Ecol. 2007 Dec;32(2):342-57. Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural; Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov’t

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