Lyme Disease in the US is concentrated in three endemic areas: the Northeast, the upper mid-West, and the Pacific coast. In the mid-West, the range of
Lyme disease has expanded to include large parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Despite its proximity to the mid-Western focus, Illinois, so far, has not been considered an endemic area. However, more recent data suggest that this situation may be changing. Also, the extent of borrelial diversity in the mid-West remains largely unexplored. Here, we present preliminary results on the molecular characterization of Borrelia isolates from rodents captured in Cook and Lake Counties, both of which are parts of the greater metropolitan Chicago area in Illinois. We investigated the rodent reservoir present in forested areas of suburban Chicago in order to determine the frequency of infection with the
Lyme disease agent(s) by culture isolation of Borrelia spirochetes (Picken et al., unpublished). Rodent isolates of Borrelia were identified to the species level by genetic characterization. In total, 19 isolates were obtained over 3 years from NW Cook Co. and Lake Co. Pulsed-field gel electrophoretic analysis of Mlul digested DNA from these isolates showed macrorestriction patterns similar to that of the Californian isolate, strain DN127 (PF type I), New York isolate strain 25015 (PF type II), or a variant of the latter (PF type III). Sequence data generated from the rrf(5S)-rrl(23S) intergenic spacer region of the ribosomal RNA gene cluster confirmed the identity of all the Chicago isolates studied to date as B. bissettii. These strains are unlike our previous Borrelia isolates from NW Illinois and Wisconsin. In addition, there was a predominant association of B. bissettii infection with pratal rodent species such as Microtus pennsylvanicus and Zapus hudsonius. The relationship of this novel enzootic focus to the established mid-Western endemic focus of
Lyme disease remains to be elucidated. The geographic range and reservoir diversity of this organism may have hitherto been underestimated.