Tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) is the causative agent of tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) and causes neurological disease in humans in Eurasia. TBEV is transmitted by ticks of the genus Ixodes. Currently 10,000–12,000 clinical cases are reported annually in ≈30 TBE endemic countries. Since 1990 the epidemiology of TBE is characterized by a global increase of clinical cases and an expansion of risk areas. Similar trends are also observed in Switzerland but few studies confirmed the emergence of new TBE foci by detecting viral RNA in field-collected ticks. In this study, free-living Ixodes ricinus (L.) ticks from one nonendemic and three new TBE endemic regions located in the Western part of Switzerland were screened during four consecutive years (2007–2010) for the presence of TBEV. A total of 9,868 I. ricinus ticks (6,665 nymphs and 3,203 adults) were examined in pools for TBEV by real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction. Our results confirmed the presence of viral RNA in 0.1% (6/6120) of questing ticks collected in one new endemic region. Among TBE endemic sites, the minimal infection rate per 100 ticks tested ranged from 0.21 (1/477) to 0.95 (1/105). Four positive samples were sequenced and phylogenetic analysis of the NS5 gene showed that all TBEV nucleotide sequences belonged to the European subtype and were split into two distinct lineages originating probably independently from two distinct foci located North-East and East of the study region.
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Vol. 49 • No. 1