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Published in APPLIED AND ENVIRONMENTAL MICROBIOLOGY, May 2003, p. 2825–2830.


In Europe, 6 of the 11 genospecies of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato are prevalent in questing Ixodes ricinus ticks. In most parts of Central Europe, B. afzelii, B. garinii, and B. valaisiana are the most frequent species, whereas B. burgdorferi sensu stricto, B. bissettii, and B. lusitaniae are rare. Previously, it has been shown that B. afzelii is associated with European rodents. Therefore, the aim of this study was to identify reservoir hosts of B. garinii and B. valaisiana in Slovakia. Songbirds were captured in a woodland near Bratislava and investigated for engorged ticks. Questing I. ricinus ticks were collected in the same region. Both tick pools were analyzed for spirochete infections by PCR, followed by DNA-DNA hybridization and, for a subsample, by nucleotide sequencing. Three of the 17 captured songbird species were infested with spirochete-infected ticks. Spirochetes in ticks that had fed on birds were genotyped as B. garinii and B. valaisiana, whereas questing ticks were infected with B. afzelii, B. garinii, and B. valaisiana. Furthermore, identical ospA alleles of B. garinii were found in ticks that had fed on the birds and in questing ticks. The data show that songbirds are reservoir hosts of B. garinii and B. valaisiana but not of B. afzelii. This and previous studies confirm that B. burgdorferi sensu lato is host associated and that this bacterial species complex contains different ecotypes.

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