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University of Pennsylvania study reveals inconspicuous hosts in the Lyme disease epidemic
Date:11/29/2007

PHILADELPHIA - A study led by a University of Pennsylvania biologist in the tick-infested woods of the Hudson Valley is challenging the widely held belief that mice are the main animal reservoir for Lyme disease in the U.S.

The paper, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, demonstrates that chipmunks and two shrew species, not just mice, are the four species that account for major outbreaks.

According to the study, white-footed mice account for about a quarter of infected ticks. Short-tailed shrews and masked shrews were responsible for a quarter each and chipmunks for as much as 13 percent. According to the team, vaccination strategies aimed solely at mice are unlikely to bring the disease under control. Efforts to control Lyme disease and prevent its spread, the team said, must include strategies that account for multi-species carriers.

The majority of zoonotic diseases, those that can be transmitted from wild or domestic animals to humans, are generally assumed to have one natural animal host, Dustin Brisson, professor of biology in the School of Arts and Science at Penn, said. For Lyme disease, this host has been the white-footed mouse. Data are beginning to accumulate to suggest that the story is much more complex, mice being one of an assemblage of vertebrate species contributing to feeding ticks and transmitting B. burgdorferi. Deer, a popular culprit of the Lyme disease epidemic, play a rather minor role in transmitting the bacteria to feeding ticks, although they are a major cause of the elevated tick densities that are important for the spread of the disease to humans.

Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, is transmitted to humans by infected, blacklegged ticks. The ticks, infected as larvae during their first meal the blood of a vertebrate are middle men.

Mice were thought to be the primary natural reservoir of the disease because nearly 90 percent of ticks feed
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Contact: Jordan Reese
jreese@pobox.upenn.edu
215-573-6604
University of Pennsylvania
Source:Eurekalert

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