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In May 1999, field surveys of
Lyme disease spirochetes were conducted around the Tianshan Mountains in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in northwestern People’s Republic of China. Ixodes persulcatus ticks were obtained in a Tianchi Lake valley with primary forest, while the tick fauna was poor in the semidesert or at higher altitudes in this region. Species identities were confirmed by molecular analysis in which an internal transcribed spacer sequence was used. Of 55 adult ticks, 22 (40%) were positive for spirochetes as determined by Barbour-Stoenner-Kelly culture passages. In addition, some rodents, including Apodemus uralensis (5 of 14 animals) and Cricetulus longicaudatus (the only animal examined), and some immature stages of I. persulcatus (4 of 11 ticks) that had fed on A. uralensis were positive for spirochetes. Based on 5S-23S rRNA intergenic spacer restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis and reactivity with monoclonal antibodies, 35 cultures (including double isolation cultures) were identified as Borrelia garinii (20 isolates, including 9 Eurasian pattern B isolates and 11 Asian pattern C isolates), Borrelia afzelii (10 pattern D isolates), and mixed cultures (5 cultures, including isolates that produced B. garinii patterns B and C plus B. afzelii pattern D). These findings revealed that
Lyme disease pathogens are distributed in the mountainous areas in northwestern China even though it is an arid region, and they also confirmed the specific relationship between I. persulcatus and genetic patterns of Borrelia spp. on the Asian continent.