The spirochete bacterium Borrelia afzelii is the most common cause of Lyme borreliosis in Europe. This tick-borne pathogen can establish systemic infections in rodents but not in birds. However, several field studies have recovered larval Ixodes ricinus ticks infected with B. afzelii from songbirds suggesting successful transmission of B. afzelii. We reviewed the literature to determine which songbird species were the most frequent carriers of B. afzelii-infected I. ricinus larvae and nymphs. We tested experimentally whether B. afzelii is capable of co-feeding transmission on two common European bird species, the blackbird (Turdus merula) and the great tit (Parus major). For each bird species, four naïve individuals were infested with B. afzelii-infected I. ricinus nymphal ticks and pathogen-free larval ticks. None of the co-feeding larvae tested positive for B. afzelii in blackbirds, but a low percentage of infected larvae (3.33%) was observed in great tits. Transstadial transmission of B. afzelii DNA from the engorged nymphs to the adult ticks was observed in both bird species. However, BSK culture found that these spirochetes were not viable. Our study suggests that co-feeding transmission of B. afzelii is not efficient in these two songbird species.
Heylen, D. J. A., Sprong, H., Krawczyk, A., Van Houtte, N., Genné, D., Gomez-Chamorro, A., van Oers, K., & Voordouw, M. J. (2017). Inefficient co-feeding transmission of Borrelia afzelii in two common European songbirds. Scientific Reports, 7, . https://doi.org/10.1038/srep39596