Are other tick-borne infections overlooked in patients investigated for Lyme neuroborreliosis? A large retrospective study from South-eastern Sweden

Ticks Tick Borne Dis. 2021 Sep;12(5):101759. doi: 10.1016/j.ttbdis.2021.101759. Epub 2021 Jun 4.


In Europe, the hard tick Ixodes ricinus is considered the most important vector of human zoonotic diseases. Human pathogenic agents spread by I. ricinus in Sweden include Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato (s.l.), Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Rickettsia helvetica, the recently described Neoehrlichia mikurensis, Borrelia miyamotoi, tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV), and Babesia spp. (Babesia microti, Babesia venatorum and Babesia divergens). Since these pathogens share the same vector, co-infections with more than one tick-borne pathogen may occur and thus complicate the diagnosis and clinical management of the patient due to possibly altered symptomatology. Borrelia burgdorferi s.l., TBEV and B. miyamotoi are well-known to cause infections of the central nervous system (CNS), whereas the abilities of other tick-borne pathogens to invade the CNS are largely unknown. The aim of this study was to investigate the presence and clinical impact of tick-borne pathogens other than B. burgdorferi s.l. in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and serum samples of patients who were under investigation for Lyme neuroborreliosis (LNB) in a tick-endemic region of South-eastern Sweden. CSF and serum samples from 600 patients, recruited from the Regions of Östergötland County, Jönköping County and Kalmar County in South-eastern Sweden and investigated for LNB during the period of 2009-2013, were retrospectively collected for analysis. The samples were analysed by real-time PCR for the presence of nucleic acid from B. burgdorferi s.l., B. miyamotoi, A. phagocytophilum, Rickettsia spp., N. mikurensis, TBEV and Babesia spp. Serological analyses were conducted in CSF and serum samples for all patients regarding B. burgdorferi s.l., and for the patients with CSF mononuclear pleocytosis, analyses of antibodies to B. miyamotoi, A. phagocytophilum, spotted fever group (SFG) rickettsiae, TBEV and B. microti in serum were performed. The medical charts of all the patients with CSF mononuclear pleocytosis and patients with positive PCR findings were reviewed. Of the 600 patients, 55 (9%) presented with CSF mononuclear pleocytosis, 13 (2%) of whom had Borrelia-specific antibodies in the CSF. One patient was PCR-positive for N. mikurensis, and another one was PCR-positive for Borrelia spp. in serum. No pathogens were detected by PCR in the CSF samples. Four patients had serum antibodies to B. miyamotoi, four patients to A. phagocytophilum, five patients to SFG rickettsiae, and six patients to TBEV. One patient, with antibodies to SFG rickettsiae, had both clinical and laboratory signs suggestive of a current infection. Nine patients had serum antibodies to more than one pathogen, although none of these was assessed as a current co-infection. We can conclude from this study that tick-borne co-infections are uncommon in patients who are being investigated for suspected LNB in South-eastern Sweden, an area endemic for borreliosis and TBE.

Keywords: B. burgdorferi s.l; Co-infection; PCR.

MeSH terms

  • Anaplasma phagocytophilum / isolation & purification
  • Animals
  • Borrelia / isolation & purification
  • Borrelia Infections* / blood
  • Borrelia Infections* / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Borrelia burgdorferi / isolation & purification
  • Coinfection*
  • Encephalitis Viruses, Tick-Borne / isolation & purification
  • Humans
  • Ixodes / microbiology
  • Ixodes / virology
  • Lyme Neuroborreliosis* / blood
  • Lyme Neuroborreliosis* / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Lyme Neuroborreliosis* / diagnosis
  • Pathology, Molecular
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sweden
  • Tick-Borne Diseases / blood
  • Tick-Borne Diseases / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Tick-Borne Diseases / diagnosis
  • Zoonoses / complications
  • Zoonoses / diagnosis

Supplementary concepts

  • Borrelia microti
  • Borrelia miyamotoi