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To determine whether rabbits may serve as reservoir hosts for
Lyme disease spirochaetes in Europe, we compared their competence as hosts for Borrelia afzelii, one of the most prevalent European spirochaetal variants, with that of the Mongolian jird. To infect rabbits or jirds, at least 3 nymphal or adult Ixodes ricinus ticks infected with spirochaetes fed to repletion on each animal. Whereas jirds readily acquired tick-borne
Lyme disease spirochaetes and subsequently infected vector ticks, rabbits exposed to tick-borne spirochaetes rarely became infectious to ticks. Only the rabbit that was infectious to ticks developed an antibody response. To the extent that I. ricinus ticks feed on European rabbits, these mammals may be zooprophylactic by diverting vector ticks from more suitable reservoir competent hosts.