Lyme disease is reported across Canada, but pinpointing the source of infection has been problematic. In this three-year, bird-tick-pathogen study (2004–2006), 366 ticks representing 12 species were collected from 151 songbirds (31 passerine species/subspecies) at 16 locations Canada-wide. Of the 167 ticks/pools tested, 19 (11.4%) were infected with Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato (s.l.). Sequencing of the rrf-rrl intergenic spacer gene revealed four Borrelia genotypes: B. burgdorferi sensu stricto (s.s.) and three novel genotypes (BC genotype 1, BC genotype 2, BC genotype 3). All four genotypes were detected in spirochete-infected Ixodes auritulus (females, nymphs, larvae) suggesting this tick species is a vector for B. burgdorferi s.l. We provide first-time records for: ticks in the Yukon (north of 60° latitude), northernmost collection of Amblyomma americanum in North America, and Amblyomma imitator in Canada. First reports of bird-derived ticks infected with B. burgdorferi s.l. include: live culture of spirochetes from Ixodes pacificus (nymph) plus detection in I. auritulus nymphs, Ixodes scapularis in New Brunswick, and an I. scapularis larva in Canada. We provide the first account of B. burgdorferi s. l. in an Ixodes muris tick collected from a songbird anywhere. Congruent with previous data for the American Robin, we suggest that the Common Yellowthroat, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow, and Swainson's Thrush are reservoir-competent hosts. Song Sparrows, the predominant hosts, were parasitized by I. auritulus harboring all four Borrelia genotypes. Our results show that songbirds import B. burgdorferi s.l.-infected ticks into Canada. Bird-feeding I. scapularis subadults were infected with Lyme spirochetes during both spring and fall migration in eastern Canada. Because songbirds disperse millions of infected ticks across Canada, people and domestic animals contract Lyme disease outside of the known and expected range.
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