Only limited information is available about the occurrence of ticks and tick-borne pathogens in public parks, which are areas strongly influenced by human beings. For this reason, Ixodes ricinus were collected in public parks of different Bavarian cities in a 2-year survey (2009 and 2010) and screened for DNA of Babesia spp., Rickettsia spp. and Bartonella spp. by PCR. Species identification was performed by sequence analysis and alignment with existing sequences in GenBank. Additionally, coinfections with Anaplasma phagocytophilum were investigated.
The following prevalences were detected: Babesia spp.: 0.4% (n = 17, including one pool of two larvae) in 2009 and 0.5 to 0.7% (n = 11, including one pool of five larvae) in 2010; Rickettsia spp.: 6.4 to 7.7% (n = 285, including 16 pools of 76 larvae) in 2009. DNA of Bartonella spp. in I. ricinus in Bavarian public parks could not be identified. Sequence analysis revealed the following species: Babesia sp. EU1 (n = 25), B. divergens (n = 1), B. divergens/capreoli (n = 1), B. gibsoni-like (n = 1), R. helvetica (n = 272), R. monacensis IrR/Munich (n = 12) and unspecified R. monacensis (n = 1). The majority of coinfections were R. helvetica with A. phagocytophilum (n = 27), but coinfections between Babesia spp. and A. phagocytophilum, or Babesia spp. and R. helvetica were also detected.
I. ricinus ticks in urban areas of Germany harbor several tick-borne pathogens and coinfections were also observed. Public parks are of particularly great interest regarding the epidemiology of tick-borne pathogens, because of differences in both the prevalence of pathogens in ticks as well as a varying species arrangement when compared to woodland areas. The record of DNA of a Babesia gibsoni-like pathogen detected in I. ricinus suggests that I. ricinus may harbor and transmit more Babesia spp. than previously known. Because of their high recreational value for human beings, urban green areas are likely to remain in the research focus on public health issues.