Acquisition of borrelia burgdorferi infection by larval ixodes scapularis (Acari: Ixodidae) associated with engorgement measures

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Measuring rates of acquisition of the Lyme disease pathogen, Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato Johnson, Schmid, Hyde, Steigerwalt & Brenner, by the larval stage of Ixodes scapularis Say is a useful tool for xenodiagnoses of B. burgdorferi in vertebrate hosts. In the nymphal and adult stages of I. scapularis, the duration of attachment to hosts has been shown to predict both body engorgement during blood feeding and the timing of infection with B. burgdorferi. However, these relationships have not been established for the larval stage of I. scapularis. We sought to establish the relationship between body size during engorgement of larval I. scapularis placed on B. burgdorferi-infected, white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus Rafinesque) and the presence or absence of infection in larvae sampled from hosts over time. Body size, time, and their interaction were the best predictors of larval infection with B. burgdorferi. We found that infected larvae showed significantly greater engorgement than uninfected larvae as early as 24 h after placement on a host. These findings may suggest that infection with B. burgdorferi affects the larval feeding process. Alternatively, larvae that engorge more rapidly on hosts may acquire infections faster. Knowledge of these relationships can be applied to improve effective xenodiagnosis of B. burgdorferi in white-footed mice. Further, these findings shed light on vector-pathogen-host interactions during an understudied part of the Lyme disease transmission cycle.

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Journal of Medical Entomology