Multiple infections in questing nymphs and adult female Ixodes ricinus ticks collected in a recreational forest in Denmark.


Department for Diagnostics and Scientific Advice, National Veterinary Institute, Technical University of Denmark, Kgs. Lyngby, Denmark. Electronic address: [Email]


During its lifecycle, the generalist Ixodes ricinus takes up three blood meals from a wide selection of vertebrate hosts, some of which are reservoirs for multiple vector-associated pathogens. Since I. ricinus also readily bites humans, pets, and livestock, these hosts are at risk of becoming infected with more than one tick-borne pathogen. Multiple tick-borne infections are a public health concern, since they may increase diversity and duration of symptoms and complicate differential diagnosis and therapy. We used an existing Fluidigm real-time PCR chip to identify the minimum risk of exposure to infected/co-infected ticks in Denmark. We screened 509 nymphs and 504 adult female I. ricinus ticks for 17 different vector-associated pathogenic agents. The questing ticks were collected by flagging during the same season in two consecutive years in Grib forest in the capital region of Copenhagen. Overall, 19.1% of the nymphs and 52.2% of the adult female ticks harbored at least one zoonotic pathogen. The main agents were Borrelia spp., Anaplasma phagocytophilum and Rickettsia helvetica, while Candidatus Neoehrlichia mikurensis and Babesia venatorum both were present in less than 1% of the ticks. In 3.5% of the nymphs and 12.3% of adults we found more than one tick-borne pathogen. Of these, 15% were potentially triple or quadruple infections. Whereas mixed infections with Borrelia were equally distributed among both life stages, the adult ticks hosted 84.5% of the co-infections with different species of tick-borne pathogens, chiefly involving Borrelia species in combination with either R. helvetica or A. phagocytophilum. Statistical analyses indicated non-random co-occurrence of Borrelia spielmanii/Borrelia garinii in both life stages and B. garinii/Borrelia afzelii and B. garinii/Borrelia valaisiana in the nymphs. Although the overall prevalence of ticks hosting more than one infection only constituted 7.9% at the particular site investigated in this study, our results still underline that co-infections should be considered in diagnosis and treatment of tick-borne diseases in northern Europe.


Anaplasma,Borrelia,Co-infections,Ixodes ricinus,Mixed infections,Rickettsia,

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