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Sympatric occurrence of Ixodes ricinus with Dermacentor reticulatus and Haemaphysalis concinna and the associated tick-borne pathogens near the German Baltic coast

Background Ixodid ticks from the Northern Hemisphere have registered a northward expansion in recent years, and Dermacentor reticulatus is such an example in Europe, its expansion being considered a result of climate change alongside other factors. The aim of this study was to identify the composition of questing tick species and the associated pathogens at different sites near the German Baltic coast. Methods Questing ticks were collected monthly at four sites (May–November, 2020), mainly grasslands, and in October and November 2020 at a fifth site. Molecular screening of ticks for pathogens included RT-qPCR for the tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV), qPCR for Anaplasma phagocytophilum, PCR for Babesia species and Rickettsia species, and nested PCR for Borrelia species. Results Altogether 1174 questing ticks were collected: 760 Ixodes ricinus, 326 D. reticulatus and 88 Haemaphysalis concinna. The highest activity peak of I. ricinus and D. reticulatus was in May, in June for H. concinna while a second peak was observed only for I. ricinus and D. reticulatus in September and October, respectively. All samples tested negative for TBEV. For A. phagocytophilum, 1.5% of I. ricinus adults tested positive while the minimum infection rate (MIR) in nymphs was 1.3%. This pathogen was found in 0.6% of D. reticulatus. Babesia spp. were detected in I. ricinus (18.2% adults, 2.1% MIR in nymphs) and H. concinna (13.3% adults, 9.7% MIR in nymphs). Borrelia spp. were present only in I. ricinus (49.1% adults, 11.9% MIR in nymphs), while Rickettsia spp. were detected in I. ricinus (14% adults, 8.9% MIR in nymphs) and D. reticulatus (82%). Co-detection of pathogens was observed in 26.6% and 54.8% of positive I. ricinus adults and nymph pools, respectively, while one D. reticulatus tested positive for A. phagocytophilum and Rickettsia spp. The most common co-infection in I. ricinus adults was Babesia microti and Borrelia afzelii (12.3% of positive ticks). Conclusions The results of this study confirm the northern expansion of D. reticulatus and H. concinna in Germany. The detailed data of the infection levels at each location could be useful in assessing the risk of pathogen acquisition following a tick bite.



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