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1.  Circulation of four Anaplasma phagocytophilum ecotypes in Europe 
Parasites & Vectors  2014;7(1):365.
Background
Anaplasma phagocytophilum is the etiological agent of granulocytic anaplasmosis in humans and animals. Wild animals and ticks play key roles in the enzootic cycles of the pathogen. Potential ecotypes of A. phagocytophilum have been characterized genetically, but their host range, zoonotic potential and transmission dynamics has only incompletely been resolved.
Methods
The presence of A. phagocytophilum DNA was determined in more than 6000 ixodid ticks collected from the vegetation and wildlife, in 289 tissue samples from wild and domestic animals, and 69 keds collected from deer, originating from various geographic locations in The Netherlands and Belgium. From the qPCR-positive lysates, a fragment of the groEL-gene was amplified and sequenced. Additional groEL sequences from ticks and animals from Europe were obtained from GenBank, and sequences from human cases were obtained through literature searches. Statistical analyses were performed to identify A. phagocytophilum ecotypes, to assess their host range and their zoonotic potential. The population dynamics of A. phagocytophilum ecotypes was investigated using population genetic analyses.
Results
DNA of A. phagocytophilum was present in all stages of questing and feeding Ixodes ricinus, feeding I. hexagonus, I. frontalis, I. trianguliceps, and deer keds, but was absent in questing I. arboricola and Dermacentor reticulatus. DNA of A. phagocytophilum was present in feeding ticks and tissues from many vertebrates, including roe deer, mouflon, red foxes, wild boar, sheep and hedgehogs but was rarely found in rodents and birds and was absent in badgers and lizards. Four geographically dispersed A. phagocytophilum ecotypes were identified, that had significantly different host ranges. All sequences from human cases belonged to only one of these ecotypes. Based on population genetic parameters, the potentially zoonotic ecotype showed significant expansion.
Conclusion
Four ecotypes of A. phagocytophilum with differential enzootic cycles were identified. So far, all human cases clustered in only one of these ecotypes. The zoonotic ecotype has the broadest range of wildlife hosts. The expansion of the zoonotic A. phagocytophilum ecotype indicates a recent increase of the acarological risk of exposure of humans and animals.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1756-3305-7-365) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1186/1756-3305-7-365
PMCID: PMC4153903  PMID: 25127547
Anaplasma phagocytophilum; Zoonoses; Ixodes ricinus; Wildlife; Epidemiology
2.  Assessing the Effects of Climate on Host-Parasite Interactions: A Comparative Study of European Birds and Their Parasites 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e82886.
Background
Climate change potentially has important effects on distribution, abundance, transmission and virulence of parasites in wild populations of animals.
Methodology/Principal Finding
Here we analyzed paired information on 89 parasite populations for 24 species of bird hosts some years ago and again in 2010 with an average interval of 10 years. The parasite taxa included protozoa, feather parasites, diptera, ticks, mites and fleas. We investigated whether change in abundance and prevalence of parasites was related to change in body condition, reproduction and population size of hosts. We conducted analyses based on the entire dataset, but also on a restricted dataset with intervals between study years being 5–15 years. Parasite abundance increased over time when restricting the analyses to datasets with an interval of 5–15 years, with no significant effect of changes in temperature at the time of breeding among study sites. Changes in host body condition and clutch size were related to change in temperature between first and second study year. In addition, changes in clutch size, brood size and body condition of hosts were correlated with change in abundance of parasites. Finally, changes in population size of hosts were not significantly related to changes in abundance of parasites or their prevalence.
Conclusions/Significance
Climate change is associated with a general increase in parasite abundance. Variation in laying date depended on locality and was associated with latitude while body condition of hosts was associated with a change in temperature. Because clutch size, brood size and body condition were associated with change in parasitism, these results suggest that parasites, perhaps mediated through the indirect effects of temperature, may affect fecundity and condition of their hosts. The conclusions were particularly in accordance with predictions when the restricted dataset with intervals of 5–15 years was used, suggesting that short intervals may bias findings.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082886
PMCID: PMC3876993  PMID: 24391725
3.  Spatial disaggregation of tick occurrence and ecology at a local scale as a preliminary step for spatial surveillance of tick-borne diseases: general framework and health implications in Belgium 
Parasites & Vectors  2013;6:190.
Background
The incidence of tick-borne diseases is increasing in Europe. Sub national information on tick distribution, ecology and vector status is often lacking. However, precise location of infection risk can lead to better targeted prevention measures, surveillance and control.
Methods
In this context, the current paper compiled geolocated tick occurrences in Belgium, a country where tick-borne disease has received little attention, in order to highlight the potential value of spatial approaches and draw some recommendations for future research priorities.
Results
Mapping of 89,289 ticks over 654 sites revealed that ticks such as Ixodes ricinus and Ixodes hexagonus are largely present while Dermacentor reticulatus has a patchy distribution. Suspected hot spots of tick diversity might favor pathogen exchanges and suspected hot spots of I. ricinus abundance might increase human-vector contact locally. This underlines the necessity to map pathogens and ticks in detail. While I. ricinus is the main vector, I. hexagonus is a vector and reservoir of Borrelia burgdorferi s.l., which is active the whole year and is also found in urban settings. This and other nidiculous species bite humans less frequently, but seem to harbour pathogens. Their role in maintaining a pathogenic cycle within the wildlife merits investigation as they might facilitate transmission to humans if co-occurring with I. ricinus. Many micro-organisms are found abroad in tick species present in Belgium. Most have not been recorded locally but have not been searched for. Some are transmitted directly at the time of the bite, suggesting promotion of tick avoidance additionally to tick removal.
Conclusion
This countrywide approach to tick-borne diseases has helped delineate recommendations for future research priorities necessary to design public health policies aimed at spatially integrating the major components of the ecological cycle of tick-borne diseases. A systematic survey of tick species and associated pathogens is called for in Europe, as well as better characterisation of species interaction in the ecology of tick-borne diseases, those being all tick species, pathogens, hosts and other species which might play a role in tick-borne diseases complex ecosystems.
doi:10.1186/1756-3305-6-190
PMCID: PMC3726513  PMID: 23800283
Tick; Vector; Spatial distribution; Ecology; Vector-borne diseases
4.  Prevalence of Neoehrlichia mikurensis in ticks and rodents from North-west Europe 
Parasites & Vectors  2012;5:74.
Background
Neoehrlichia mikurensis s an emerging and vector-borne zoonosis: The first human disease cases were reported in 2010. Limited information is available about the prevalence and distribution of Neoehrlichia mikurensis in Europe, its natural life cycle and reservoir hosts. An Ehrlichia-like schotti variant has been described in questing Ixodes ricinus ticks, which could be identical to Neoehrlichia mikurensis.
Methods
Three genetic markers, 16S rDNA, gltA and GroEL, of Ehrlichia schotti-positive tick lysates were amplified, sequenced and compared to sequences from Neoehrlichia mikurensis. Based on these DNA sequences, a multiplex real-time PCR was developed to specifically detect Neoehrlichia mikurensis in combination with Anaplasma phagocytophilum in tick lysates. Various tick species from different life-stages, particularly Ixodes ricinus nymphs, were collected from the vegetation or wildlife. Tick lysates and DNA derived from organs of wild rodents were tested by PCR-based methods for the presence of Neoehrlichia mikurensis. Prevalence of Neoehrlichia mikurensis was calculated together with confidence intervals using Fisher's exact test.
Results
The three genetic markers of Ehrlichia schotti-positive field isolates were similar or identical to Neoehrlichia mikurensis. Neoehrlichia mikurensis was found to be ubiquitously spread in the Netherlands and Belgium, but was not detected in the 401 tick samples from the UK. Neoehrlichia mikurensis was found in nymphs and adult Ixodes ricinus ticks, but neither in their larvae, nor in any other tick species tested. Neoehrlichia mikurensis was detected in diverse organs of some rodent species. Engorging ticks from red deer, European mouflon, wild boar and sheep were found positive for Neoehrlichia mikurensis.
Conclusions
Ehrlichia schotti is similar, if not identical, to Neoehrlichia mikurensis. Neoehrlichia mikurensis is present in questing Ixodes ricinus ticks throughout the Netherlands and Belgium. We propose that Ixodes ricinus can transstadially, but not transovarially, transmit this microorganism, and that different rodent species may act as reservoir hosts. These data further imply that wildlife and humans are frequently exposed to Neoehrlichia mikurensis-infected ticks through tick bites. Future studies should aim to investigate to what extent Neoehrlichia mikurensis poses a risk to public health.
doi:10.1186/1756-3305-5-74
PMCID: PMC3395572  PMID: 22515314
Vector-borne disease; Emerging zoonoses; Candidatus N. mikurensis; I. ricinus; Anaplasma phagocytophylum

Results 1-4 (4)