The principal vector of Borrelia burgdorferi, the Lyme borreliosis spirochete, in the Northeast and Midwestern regions of the United States is the blacklegged tick Ixodes scapularis. Because of a favorable environment, I. scapularis is also plentiful in the South; however, a correlation with Lyme borreliosis cases does not exist in this region of the United States. Concern existed that something intrinsic to ticks found in Louisiana could mitigate their ability to transmit B. burgdorferi. Therefore, we set out to assess the ability of I. scapularis ticks from Louisiana to become infected with and transmit B. burgdorferi using mice as hosts. In the laboratory, mating adult female ticks collected in southeastern Louisiana were fed on the ears of rabbits. After oviposition and egg hatching, the resulting larvae were fed on mice that had been needle-inoculated with two different strains of B. burgdorferi sensu stricto, B31 and JD1. Larvae were found to be positive for spirochetes. Additional fed larvae were allowed to molt into the nymphal stage. Flat nymphs remained infected with B. burgdorferi. Infected nymphs were allowed to feed on naïve mice, all of which became infected as shown by culture of ear biopsy specimens. Naïve larvae were then fed on these same mice to assess transmissibility. The resulting engorged larvae harbored spirochetes. We have demonstrated that the I. scapularis ticks found in Louisiana are fully competent to carry and transmit B. burgdorferi infection.
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Vol. 40 • No. 6