Urban Ticks in Southern England Carry a Range of Lyme Disease Infections

 

A paper has been published [1] showing that ticks in urban and peri-urban areas in Southern England carry a range of Lyme disease causing bacteria. There has only been a limited number of studies and surveys on the prevelence of ticks and their infections in the UK, so any new research into this area is crucial. Some doctors still believe you can only contract Lyme disease from the USA and so mistakingly rule out Lyme disease from patients displaying characteristic signs of the disease.

 

Long grass urban park lyme disease
Ticks favour habitat such as overgrowth and long grass.

Questing ticks were collected from grassland, hedges, parks, woodland and woodland edges in Salisbury, an urban area located in Wiltshire, England. Ticks were identified at over 50% of the 25 sites surveyed.

The DNA of Borrelia burgdorferi s.l. was detected in 18.1% of nymphs collected across the 25 sites during 2013 and 2014.  Two nymphs also tested positive for the newly emerging tick-borne pathogen B. miyamotoiB. garinii was found in 42% of the ticks, while 36% were infected with B. valaisiana.

B. burgdorferi-infected nymphs were active in Spring, Summer and Autumn, but with a greater intensity in the Spring.

The repeated presence of nymphs (baby ticks) ─ males and females ─ in 5 sites supported the authors conclusion that urban Borrelia transmission cycles may exist in some of the urban green spaces. A tick “hot spot” was described at one site based on a high number of ticks and the presence of all stages.  At another site, the ticks may have been introduced by a surrounding rural space. The greatest number of ticks were found in the woodland edge.

forest woodland lyme diseaseBoth birds and dogs may play a role as transporters of ticks into urban habitats. Many survey sites were part of regular walking routes for dogs and their owners. Dogs, therefore, may act as adequate transporters of ticks both into and between urban habitats.

Ticks are frequently found in a range of habitats including more populated regions with recreational spaces used by the public, yet public awareness of ticks and Lyme disease is still poor. Greater understanding of avoiding tick bites, how to safely remove ticks, and of the early presentations of Lyme disease is urgently needed.

  1. Hansford, K.M., et al., Ticks and Borrelia in urban and peri-urban green space habitats in a city in southern England. Ticks Tick Borne Dis, 2016.