, Volume 18, Issue 8, pp 485-491

Acquisition of Borrelia burgdorferi by Ixodes ricinus ticks fed on the European hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus L

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A hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus, was found to be heavily infested with larval and nymphal Ixodes ricinus in a forest park in Co. Galway, Ireland. A large proportion of the ticks that engorged and detached were infected with the spirochacte, Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of human Lyme borreliosis. The identity of these spirochaetes was confirmed by immunofluorescent assay with B. burgdorferi-specific monoclonal antibody and by polymerase chain reaction test and they were transmitted from the hedgehog to laboratory-reared ticks and from the ticks obtained from the hedgehog to gerbils (Meriones unguiculatus). The high infection rate of the larvae that fed on the hedgehog in comparison with unfed larvae from the same habitat was interpreted as strong evidence that this host species is reservoir competent. Since hedgehogs can evidently feed adult ticks as well as many immature stages, they may well have an important role in the ecology of Lyme borreliosis in some habitats.