Background: The common tick Ixodes ricinus and the taiga tick I. persulcatus are the main tick vectors of Borrelia spirochaetes, TBE virus (TBEV) and of several other zoonotic pathogens in the western and eastern areas, respectively of the Palaearctic region. Recently, populations of the taiga tick were, for the first time, detected in northern Sweden. This prompted us to investigate if they harbour human pathogens.
Methods: A total of 276 I. persulcatus ticks (136 males, 126 females and 14 nymphs) and one I. ricinus nymph was collected by the cloth-dragging method in northern Sweden in July-August 2015 and May-July 2016. In addition, 8 males and 10 females of I. persulcatus were collected from two dogs (16 and 2 ticks, respectively) in two of the localities. All ticks were microscopically and molecularly identified to developmental stage and species and screened for B. burgdorferi (sensu lato), B. miyamotoi, Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Rickettsia spp., Neoehrlichia mikurensis, Babesia spp. and TBEV using real-time PCR followed by species identification by sequencing the PCR-products of conventional PCR assays.
Results: Of the ticks collected by the cloth-dragging method, 55% (152/277) were positive for Borrelia. There was no significant difference between the proportions of Borrelia-infected nymphs (33%, 5/15) and Borrelia-infected adult ticks (56%, 147/262), and no significant difference between the proportions of Borrelia-infected males (54%, 74/136) and Borrelia-infected females (58%, 73/126). Three different Borrelia species were identified. Borrelia afzelii was the predominant species and detected in 46% of all Borrelia-infected ticks followed by B. garinii, 35%, B. valaisiana, 1%, and mixed infections of different Borrelia species, 1%; 17% of all Borrelia-infections were untypeable. One I. persulcatus female contained Rickettsia helvetica, and one nymph contained Rickettsia sp. Of the 277 ticks analysed, all were negative for A. phagocytophilum, Babesia spp., Borrelia miyamotoi, N. mikurensis and TBEV. The ticks collected from the two dogs were negative for all pathogens examined except for Borrelia spp., that was detected in 5 out of 16 ticks removed from one of the dogs.
Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first time that I. persulcatus from Sweden has been analysed for the presence of tick-borne pathogens. The examined tick populations had a low diversity of tick-borne pathogens but a high prevalence of B. burgdorferi (s.l.).
Keywords: B. garinii; B. valaisiana; Borrelia afzelii; Geese; Ixodes persulcatus; Rickettsia helvetica; Sweden; Taiga tick.