Lyme Disease Transmission Risk: Seasonal Variation in the Built Environment

Healthcare (Basel). 2018 Jul 19;6(3):84. doi: 10.3390/healthcare6030084.


Seasonal variation in spatial distribution and pathogen prevalence of Borrelia burgdorferi in blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) influences human population risk of Lyme disease in peri-urban built environments. Parks, gardens, playgrounds, school campuses and neighborhoods represent a significant risk for Lyme disease transmission. From June 2012 through May 2014, ticks were collected using 1 m² corduroy cloths dragged over low-lying vegetation parallel to walkways with high human foot traffic. DNA was extracted from ticks, purified and presence of B. burgdorferi assessed by polymerase chain reaction amplification. Summer is reported as the time of highest risk for Lyme disease transmission in the United States and our results indicate a higher tick density of 26.0/1000 m² in summer vs. 0.2/1000 m² to 10.5/1000 m² in spring and fall. However, our findings suggest that tick infection rate is proportionally higher during the fall and spring than summer (30.0⁻54.7% in fall and 36.8⁻65.6% in spring vs. 20.0⁻28.2% in summer). Seasonal variation in infected tick density has significant implications for Lyme disease transmission as people are less likely to be aware of ticks in built environments, and unaware of increased infection in ticks in spring and fall. These factors may lead to more tick bites resulting in Lyme infection.

Keywords: Borrelia burgdorferi; Northeastern United States; human risk factors; tick density and infection rate; tick-borne diseases.