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To more closely define the risk of infection by the agent of
Lyme disease in Europe, we determined whether spirochetal prevalence increases throughout the development of the Ixodes ricinus vector tick. Of all ticks that could be flagged from vegetation, I. ricinus were by far the most abundant. Spirochetal infection rates in the adult stage of this tick (15%) are no higher than those in nymphs (18%) but greatly exceed those in larvae (0.7%). This tick therefore appears to attain infection mainly from the host of its larval stage, generally feeds on hosts that are noncompetent as reservoirs in its nymphal stage, and rarely inherits infection. Risk of human infection mainly derives from contact with the nymphal stage of the vector tick because the larva is rarely infected and the adult is large enough to be noticed and promptly removed.