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Lyme disease risk in southern California: an analysis of environmental factors that affect the prevalence of Borrelia Burgdorferi

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Lyme disease risk in southern California: abiotic and environmental drivers of Ixodes pacificus (Acari: Ixodidae) density and infection prevalence with Borrelia burgdorferi
 
BACKGROUND:
Tick-borne diseases, particularly Lyme disease, are emerging across the northern hemisphere. In order to manage emerging diseases and predict where emergence will likely occur, it is necessary to understand the factors influencing the distribution, abundance and infection prevalence of vector species. In North America, Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease and is transmitted by blacklegged ticks. This study aimed to explore the abiotic and environmental drivers of density and infection prevalence of western blacklegged ticks (Ixodes pacificus) in southern California, an understudied and densely populated region of North America.
 
RESULTS:
Over the course of this two-year study, densities of I. pacificus adults were consistently positively associated with host availability for juvenile ticks and dense oak woodland habitat. Densities of nymphal and larval I. pacificus, on the other hand were primarily predicted by host availability for juvenile ticks in the first year of the study, and by habitat characteristics such as dense leaf litter in the second year. Infection with the causative agent of Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi (sensu stricto), and related spirochetes was not predicted by the abiotic conditions promoting I. pacificus populations, but rather by diversity of the tick community, and in particular by the presence of two Ixodes tick species that do not generally feed on humans (Ixodes spinipalpis and Ixodes peromysci). Borrelia spp. infection was not detected in the I. pacificus populations sampled, but was detected in other vector species that may maintain enzootic transmission of the pathogen on the landscape.
 
CONCLUSIONS:
This study identified dense oak woodlands as high-risk habitats for I. pacificus tick encounter in southern California. The shift in relative importance of host availability to habitat characteristics in predicting juvenile tick abundance occurred as California’s historic drought intensified, suggesting that habitat providing suitable microclimates for tick survivorship became centrally important to patterns of abundance in the face of deleterious abiotic conditions. These results underscore the need for further investigation of the effects of climate change on tick-borne disease in California. Finally, despite low risk of human Lyme disease infection posed by I. pacificus in southern California, evidence of infection was found in other tick species, suggesting that enzootic transmission of tick-borne borreliae may be occurring in southern California, and involve parallel enzootic cycles with other tick and host species but not necessarily humans.
 
Source: By MacDonald AJ1,2, Hyon DW3, Brewington JB 3rd3, O’Connor KE4, Swei A4, Briggs CJ3. Lyme disease risk in southern California: abiotic and environmental drivers of Ixodes pacificus (Acari: Ixodidae) density and infection prevalence with Borrelia burgdorferi. Parasit Vectors. 2017 Jan 5;10(1):7. doi: 10.1186/s13071-016-1938-y.

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One thought on “Lyme disease risk in southern California: an analysis of environmental factors that affect the prevalence of Borrelia Burgdorferi”

  1. nicmali says:

    I would like to see continued research on Lyme in Southern California, considering I contracted Lyme in Riverside, California in 1992, together with my daughter who was 2 at the time. I believe there are a lot more infected ticks than suspected by doctors and researchers. I didn’t know I had Lyme until 2013 and have been dealing with all the chronic symptoms since 1992. Unfortunately, doctors were, and are, convinced that you can’t get Lyme in this area – but I would like to challenge that theory. I also wonder how many other people throughout Southern California have this disease.

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