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Prevalence of Bacterial and Protozoan Pathogens in Ticks Collected from Birds in the Republic of Moldova

Epidemiological knowledge on pathogens in ticks feeding on birds in Moldova is scarce. To reduce this gap of information, a total of 640 migrating and native birds of 40 species were caught from 2012 to 2015 and examined for the presence of ticks in the Republic of Moldova. Altogether, 262 ticks belonging to five tick species (Ixodes ricunus n = 245, Ixodes frontalis n = 12, Haemaphysalis punctata n = 2, Hyalomma marginatum n = 2 (only males), Dermacentor marginatus n = 1) were collected from 93 birds. Of these ticks, 250 (96%) were at the stage of a nymph and 9 at the stage of a larva (3%). One imago of I. frontalis and two imagoes of Hy. marginatum were found. Generally, ticks infested 14.1% of the assessed birds belonging to 12 species. DNA was extracted from individual ticks with subsequent PCR targeting Rickettsia spp., Borrelia spp. in general, as well as relapsing fever-associated Borrelia spp., in particular, Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Neoehrlichia mikurensis, Babesia spp. and Coxiella burnetii. The bird species Turdus merula showed the heaviest infestation with ticks and the highest incidence of infected ticks. Altogether, 32.8% of the assessed ticks (n = 86) were positive for one of the pathogens. DNA of Borrelia spp. was found in 15.2% (40/262) of the investigated ticks; in 7.6% of ticks (20/262), DNA of rickettsiae was detected; 6.9% (18/262) of the ticks were positive for A. phagocytophilum DNA; in 1.5% of the ticks (4/262), DNA of Neoehrlichia mikurensis was detected, followed by 1.5% (4/262) Babesia microti and 1.5% (4/262) Borrelia miyamotoi. Within the B. burgdorferi complex, B. garinii (n = 36) was largely predominant, followed by B. valaisiana (n = 2) and B. lusitaniae (n = 2). Among the detected Rickettsia spp., R. monacensis (n = 16), R. helvetica (n = 2) and R. slovaca (n = 1) were identified. In conclusion, the study provided some new information on the prevalence of ticks on birds in Moldova, as well as the presence of DNA of pathogens in the ticks. By doing so, it provided an additional piece in the puzzle of the global epidemiology of tick-transmitted infectious diseases from a geographic side from where respective surveillance data are scarce.



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