Background: Emergence of tick-borne diseases is impacting humans and livestock across the Northern Hemisphere. There are, however, large regional variations in number of cases of tick-borne diseases. Some areas have surprisingly few cases of disease compared to other regions. The aim here is to provide a first step towards a better understanding of such contrasting regional patterns of disease emergences at the northern distribution range of Ixodes ricinus in Europe.
Methods: We compare disease incidence, vector abundance and pathogen prevalence in eastern and western Norway differing in the number of tick-borne disease cases. First, we analysed the incidence of Lyme borreliosis in humans, tick-borne fever (anaplasmosis) in sheep and anaplasmosis and babesiosis in cattle to verify if incidence differed. Secondly, we analysed extensive field data on questing tick density, pathogen prevalence, as well as the broad spatial pattern of human and livestock distribution as it may relate to tick exposure.
Results: The incidences of all diseases were lower in eastern, compared to western, Norway, but this was most marked for the livestock diseases. While the prevalence of Borrelia burgdorferi (sensu lato) in ticks was similar in the two regions, the prevalence of Anaplasma phagocytophilum was markedly lower in eastern, compared to western, Norway. We found overall a lower abundance of questing nymphs in the east. In the east, there were cases of babesiosis in cattle where anaplasmosis was absent, suggesting absence of the pathogen rather than differences in exposure to ticks as part of the explanation for the much lower incidence of anaplasmosis in eastern Norway.
Conclusions: Many factors contribute to different disease incidence across ecosystems. We found that regional variation in tick-borne disease incidence may be partly linked to vector abundance and pathogen prevalence, but differently for human and livestock diseases. Further studies are needed to determine if there is also regional variation in specific genospecies and strain frequencies differing in pathogenicity.
Keywords: Anaplasmosis; Babesiosis; Ixodes ricinus; Lyme borreliosis; Pathogen prevalence; Tick questing density.