Bovine babesiosis is regarded as a limited health problem for Norwegian cows, and the incidence has decreased markedly since the 1930s. Rare cases of babesiosis in splenectomised humans from infection with Babesia divergens and B.venatorum have been described. The objective of this study was to determine whether birds can introduce Babesia-infected ticks. There are between 30 and 85 million passerine birds that migrate to Norway every spring.
Passerine birds were examined for ticks at four bird observatories along the southern Norwegian coast during the spring migrations of 2003, 2004 and 2005. The presence of Babesia was detected in the nymphs of Ixodes ricinus by real-time PCR. Positive samples were confirmed using PCR, cloning and phylogenetic analyses.
Of 512 ticks examined, real-time PCR revealed five to be positive (1.0%). Of these, four generated products that indicated the presence of Babesia spp.; each of these were confirmed to be from Babesia venatorum (EU1). Two of the four B. venatorum-positive ticks were caught from birds having an eastern migratory route (P< 0.001).
Birds transport millions of ticks across the North Sea, the Skagerrak and the Kattegat every year. Thus, even with the low prevalence of Babesia-infected ticks, a substantial number of infected ticks will be transported into Norway each year. Therefore, there is a continuous risk for introduction of new Babesia spp. into areas where I. ricinus can survive.