To evaluate the importance of vertebrate species as tick hosts and as reservoir hosts in two endemic areas for Lyme borreliosis in Switzerland, we applied molecular methods for the analysis of bloodmeal source and Borrelia infection in questing Ixodes ricinus L. ticks. In total, 1,326 questing ticks were simultaneously analyzed for Borrelia and for blood meal remnants by using reverse line blot. An overall infection prevalence of 19.0% was recorded for Borrelia sp., with similar rates in both sites. Using a newly developed method for the analysis of bloodmeal targeting the 12S rDNA mitochondrial gene, identification of host DNA from field-collected ticks was possible in 43.6% of cases. Success of host identification at the genus and species level reached 72%. In one site, host identification success reached its maximum in spring (93% in May), decreasing in summer (20% in July) and rising in autumn (73% in October). In the other site, identification rate in ticks remained low from April to July and increased in autumn reaching 68% in October and November. The most prevalent identified host DNA was artiodactyls in both sites. Red squirrel DNA was significantly more frequently detected in ticks collected in one site, whereas insectivore DNA was more frequent in ticks in the other site. DNA from more than one vertebrate host was detected in 19.5% of nymphs and 18.9% of adults. Host DNA was identified in 48.4% of the Borrelia infected ticks. Although DNA from all Borrelia species was found in at least some ticks with DNA from mammals and some ticks with DNA from birds, our results confirm a general association of B. afzelii and B. burgdorferi sensu stricto with rodents, and B. valaisiana and B. garinii with birds.
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Vol. 44 • No. 6