The role of small mammals as reservoir hosts for Borrelia burgdorferi was investigated in several areas where
Lyme disease is endemic in northern Spain. A low rate of infestation by Ixodes ricinus nymphs was found in the small mammal populations studied that correlated with the near-absence of B. burgdorferi sensu lato in 184 animals tested and with the lack of transmission of B. burgdorferi sensu lato to I. ricinus larvae that fed on them. In contrast, questing ticks collected at the same time and in the same areas were found to carry a highly variable B. burgdorferi sensu lato repertoire (B. burgdorferi sensu stricto, Borrelia garinii, Borrelia valaisiana, and Borrelia afzelii). Interestingly, the only isolate obtained from small mammals (R57, isolated from a bank vole) grouped by phylogenetic analyses with other Borrelia species but in a separate clade from the
Lyme disease and relapsing fever organisms, suggesting that it is a new species. This new agent was widely distributed among small mammals, with infection rates of 8.5 to 12% by PCR. Moreover, a high seroprevalence to B. burgdorferi sensu lato was found in the animal sera, suggesting cross-reactivity between B. burgdorferi sensu lato and R57. Although small mammals do not seem to play an important role as reservoirs for B. burgdorferi sensu lato in the study area, they seem to be implicated in the maintenance of spirochetes similar to R57.