Borrelia miyamotoi and Borrelia burgdorferi (sensu lato) identification and survey of tick-borne encephalitis virus in ticks from north-eastern Germany
Background Ixodes ricinus is the most common tick species in Europe and the main vector for Borrelia burgdorferi (sensu lato) and tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV). It is involved also in the transmission of Borrelia miyamotoi, a relapsing fever spirochete that causes health disorders in humans. Little is known regarding the circulation of Borrelia species and the natural foci of TBEV in north-eastern Germany. The goal of this study was to investigate the infection rates of Borrelia spp. and of TBEV in I. ricinus ticks from north-eastern Germany. Methods Ticks were collected by flagging from 14 forest sites in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania between April and October 2018. RNA and DNA extraction was performed from individual adult ticks and from pools of 2–10 nymphs. Real time reverse transcription PCR (RT-qPCR) targeted the 3′ non-coding region of TBEV, while DNA of Borrelia spp. was tested by nested PCR for the amplification of 16S-23S intergenic spacer. Multilocus sequence typing (MLST) was performed on B. miyamotoi isolates. Results In total, 2407 ticks were collected (239 females, 232 males and 1936 nymphs). Female and male I. ricinus ticks had identical infection rates (both 12.1%) for Borrelia spp., while nymphal pools showed a minimum infection rate (MIR) of 3.3%. Sequencing revealed four Borrelia species: B. afzelii, B. garinii, B. valaisiana and B. miyamotoi. Borrelia afzelii had the highest prevalence in adult ticks (5.5%) and nymphs (MIR of 1.8%). Borrelia miyamotoi was identified in 3.0% of adults and registered the MIR of 0.8% in nymphs. Borrelia valaisiana was confirmed in 2.5% adult ticks and nymphs had the MIR of 0.7%, while B. garinii was present in 1.1% of adults and showed a MIR of 0.1% in nymphs. The MLST of B. miyamotoi isolates showed that they belong to sequence type 635. No tick sample was positive after RT-qPCR for TBEV RNA. Conclusions The prevalence of B. miyamotoi in I. ricinus ticks registered similar levels to other reports from Europe suggesting that this agent might be well established in the local tick population. The detection of B. burgdorferi (s.l.) indicates a constant circulation in tick populations from this region.