Examining prevalence and diversity of tick-borne pathogens in questing Ixodes pacificus ticks in California

Published Date
Applied Environmental Microbiology
Salkeld DJ
Lagana DM
Wachara J
Porter WT
Nieto NC

Tick-borne diseases in California include Lyme disease (caused by Borrelia burgdorferi), infections with Borrelia miyamotoi, and human granulocytic anaplasmosis (caused by Anaplasma phagocytophilum). We surveyed multiple sites and habitats (woodland, grassland, coastal chaparral) in California to describe spatial patterns of tick-borne pathogen prevalence in western black-legged ticks (Ixodes pacificus). We found that several species of Borrelia - B. burgdorferi , B. americana and B. bissettiae - were observed in habitats such as coastal chaparral that does not harbor obvious reservoir host candidates. Describing tick-borne pathogen prevalence is strongly influenced by the scale of surveillance: aggregating data from individual sites to match jurisdictional boundaries (e.g., county or state) can lower the reported infection prevalence. Considering multiple pathogen species in the same habitat allows a more cohesive interpretation of local pathogen occurrence.ImportanceUnderstanding the local host ecology and prevalence of zoonotic diseases is vital for public health. Using tick-borne diseases in California, we show that there is often a bias to our understanding and that studies tend to focus on particular habitats e.g., Lyme disease in oak woodlands. Other habitats may harbor a surprising diversity of tick-borne pathogens but have been neglected, e.g., coastal chaparral. Explaining pathogen prevalence requires descriptions of data at a local scale; otherwise, aggregating the data can misrepresent the local dynamics of tick-borne diseases.