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  1. Abstract Background The incidence of tick-borne disease has increased dramatically in recent decades, with urban areas increasingly recognized as high-risk environments for exposure to infected ticks. Green spaces may play a key role in facilitating the invasion of ticks, hosts and pathogens into residential areas, particularly where they connect residential yards with larger natural areas (e.g. parks). However, the factors mediating tick distribution across heterogeneous urban landscapes remain poorly characterized. Methods Using generalized linear models in a multimodel inference framework, we determined the residential yard- and local landscape-level features associated with the presence of three tick species of current and growing public health importance in residential yards across Staten Island, a borough of New York City, in the state of New York, USA. Results The amount and configuration of canopy cover immediately surrounding residential yards was found to strongly predict the presence of Ixodes scapularis and Amblyomma americanum , but not that of Haemaphysalis longicornis . Within yards, we found a protective effect of fencing against I. scapularis and A. americanum, but not against H. longicornis . For all species, the presence of log and brush piles strongly increased the odds of finding ticks in yards. Conclusions The results highlightmore »a considerable risk of tick exposure in residential yards in Staten Island and identify both yard- and landscape-level features associated with their distribution. In particular, the significance of log and brush piles for all three species supports recommendations for yard management as a means of reducing contact with ticks. Graphical Abstract« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2023
  2. Abstract Background Public green spaces are important for human health, but they may expose visitors to ticks and tick-borne pathogens. We sought to understand, for the first time, visitors’ exposure risk and drivers of tick-preventative behavior in three popular parks on Staten Island, New York City, NY, USA, by integrating tick hazard and park visitors’ behaviors, risk perceptions and knowledge. Methods We conducted tick sampling in three parks, across three site types (open spaces, the edge of open spaces, and trails) and three within-park habitats (maintained grass, unmaintained herbaceous, and leaf litter) to estimate tick density during May-August 2019. Human behavior was assessed by observations of time spent and activity type in each site. We integrated the time spent in each location by park visitors and the tick density to estimate the probability of human-tick encounter. To assess visitors’ tick prevention behaviors, a knowledge, attitude, and practices (KAP) survey was administered. Results Three tick species ( Ixodes scapularis , Amblyomma americanum and Haemaphysalis longicornis) were collected. For all species, the density of nymphs was greatest in unmaintained herbaceous habitats and trails, however, the fewest people entered these hazardous locations. The KAP survey revealed that most respondents ( N  = 190) identifiedmore »parks as the main location for tick exposure, but most believed they had minimal risk for tick encounter. Consequently, many visitors did not conduct tick checks. People were most likely to practice tick checks if they knew multiple prevention methods and perceived a high likelihood of tick encounter. Conclusions By integrating acarological indices with park visitor behaviors, we found a mismatch between areas with higher tick densities and areas more frequently used by park visitors. However, this exposure risk varied among demographic groups, the type of activities and parks, with a higher probability of human-tick encounters in trails compared to open spaces. Furthermore, we showed that people’s KAP did not change across parks even if parks represented different exposure risks. Our research is a first step towards identifying visitor risk, attitudes, and practices that could be targeted by optimized messaging strategies for tick bite prevention among park visitors.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2023
  3. Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 1, 2023
  4. Gilbert, Jack A. (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Host association—the selective adaptation of pathogens to specific host species—evolves through constant interactions between host and pathogens, leaving a lot yet to be discovered on immunological mechanisms and genomic determinants. The causative agents of Lyme disease (LD) are spirochete bacteria composed of multiple species of the Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato complex, including B. burgdorferi ( Bb ), the main LD pathogen in North America—a useful model for the study of mechanisms underlying host-pathogen association. Host adaptation requires pathogens’ ability to evade host immune responses, such as complement, the first-line innate immune defense mechanism. We tested the hypothesis that different host-adapted phenotypes among Bb strains are linked to polymorphic loci that confer complement evasion traits in a host-specific manner. We first examined the survivability of 20 Bb strains in sera in vitro and/or bloodstream and tissues in vivo from rodent and avian LD models. Three groups of complement-dependent host-association phenotypes emerged. We analyzed complement-evasion genes, identified a priori among all strains and sequenced and compared genomes for individual strains representing each phenotype. The evolutionary history of ospC loci is correlated with host-specific complement-evasion phenotypes, while comparative genomics suggests that several gene families and loci are potentially involved in host association.more »This multidisciplinary work provides novel insights into the functional evolution of host-adapted phenotypes, building a foundation for further investigation of the immunological and genomic determinants of host association. IMPORTANCE Host association is the phenotype that is commonly found in many pathogens that preferential survive in particular hosts. The Lyme disease (LD)-causing agent, B. burgdorferi ( Bb ), is an ideal model to study host association, as Bb is mainly maintained in nature through rodent and avian hosts. A widespread yet untested concept posits that host association in Bb strains is linked to Bb functional genetic variation conferring evasion to complement, an innate defense mechanism in vertebrate sera. Here, we tested this concept by grouping 20 Bb strains into three complement-dependent host-association phenotypes based on their survivability in sera and/or bloodstream and distal tissues in rodent and avian LD models. Phylogenomic analysis of these strains further correlated several gene families and loci, including ospC , with host-specific complement-evasion phenotypes. Such multifaceted studies thus pave the road to further identify the determinants of host association, providing mechanistic insights into host-pathogen interaction.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 30, 2023
  5. Predicting pathogen emergence and spillover risk requires understanding the determinants of a pathogens' host range and the traits involved in host competence. While host competence is often considered a fixed species-specific trait, it may be variable if pathogens diversify across hosts. Balancing selection can lead to maintenance of pathogen polymorphisms (multiple-niche-polymorphism; MNP). The causative agent of Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi ( Bb ), provides a model to study the evolution of host adaptation, as some Bb strains defined by their outer surface protein C ( ospC ) genotype, are widespread in white-footed mice and others are associated with non-rodent vertebrates (e.g. birds). To identify the mechanisms underlying potential strain × host adaptation, we infected American robins and white-footed mice, with three Bb strains of different ospC genotypes. Bb burdens varied by strain in a host-dependent fashion, and strain persistence in hosts largely corresponded to Bb survival at early infection stages and with transmission to larvae (i.e. fitness). Early survival phenotypes are associated with cell adhesion, complement evasion and/or inflammatory and antibody-mediated removal of Bb, suggesting directional selective pressure for host adaptation and the potential role of MNP in maintaining OspC diversity. Our findings will guide future investigations to inform eco-evolutionarymore »models of host adaptation for microparasites.« less
  6. Abstract

    We use mathematical modelling to examine how microbial strain communities are structured by the host specialisation traits and antigenic relationships of their members. The model is quite general and broadly applicable, but we focus onBorrelia burgdorferi, the Lyme disease bacterium, transmitted by ticks to mice and birds. In this system, host specialisation driven by the evasion of innate immunity has been linked to multiple niche polymorphism, while antigenic differentiation driven by the evasion of adaptive immunity has been linked to negative frequency dependence. Our model is composed of two host species, one vector, and multiple co-circulating pathogen strains that vary in their host specificity and their antigenic distances from one another. We explore the conditions required to maintain pathogen diversity. We show that the combination of host specificity and antigenic differentiation creates an intricate niche structure. Unequivocal rules that relate the stability of a strain community directly to the trait composition of its members are elusive. However, broad patterns are evident. When antigenic differentiation is weak, stable communities are typically composed entirely of generalists that can exploit either host species equally well. As antigenic differentiation increases, more diverse stable communities emerge, typically around trait compositions of generalists, generalists andmore »very similar specialists, and specialists roughly balanced between the two host species.

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  7. Reisen, William (Ed.)
    Abstract The incidence of tick-borne diseases has increased in recent decades and accounts for the majority of vector-borne disease cases in temperate areas of Europe, North America, and Asia. This emergence has been attributed to multiple and interactive drivers including changes in climate, land use, abundance of key hosts, and people’s behaviors affecting the probability of human exposure to infected ticks. In this forum paper, we focus on how land use changes have shaped the eco-epidemiology of Ixodes scapularis-borne pathogens, in particular the Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto in the eastern United States. We use this as a model system, addressing other tick-borne disease systems as needed to illustrate patterns or processes. We first examine how land use interacts with abiotic conditions (microclimate) and biotic factors (e.g., host community composition) to influence the enzootic hazard, measured as the density of host-seeking I. scapularis nymphs infected with B. burgdorferi s.s. We then review the evidence of how specific landscape configuration, in particular forest fragmentation, influences the enzootic hazard and disease risk across spatial scales and urbanization levels. We emphasize the need for a dynamic understanding of landscapes based on tick and pathogen host movement and habitat use in relationmore »to human resource provisioning. We propose a coupled natural-human systems framework for tick-borne diseases that accounts for the multiple interactions, nonlinearities and feedbacks in the system and conclude with a call for standardization of methodology and terminology to help integrate studies conducted at multiple scales.« less
  8. Skare, Jon T. (Ed.)
    Pathogens possess the ability to adapt and survive in some host species but not in others–an ecological trait known as host tropism. Transmitted through ticks and carried mainly by mammals and birds, the Lyme disease (LD) bacterium is a well-suited model to study such tropism. Three main causative agents of LD, Borrelia burgdorferi , B . afzelii , and B . garinii , vary in host ranges through mechanisms eluding characterization. By feeding ticks infected with different Borrelia species, utilizing feeding chambers and live mice and quail, we found species-level differences in bacterial transmission. These differences localize on the tick blood meal, and specifically complement, a defense in vertebrate blood, and a polymorphic bacterial protein, CspA, which inactivates complement by binding to a host complement inhibitor, Factor H (FH). CspA selectively confers bacterial transmission to vertebrates that produce FH capable of allele-specific recognition. CspA is the only member of the Pfam54 gene family to exhibit host-specific FH-binding. Phylogenetic analyses revealed convergent evolution as the driver of such uniqueness, and that FH-binding likely emerged during the last glacial maximum. Our results identify a determinant of host tropism in Lyme disease infection, thus defining an evolutionary mechanism that shapes host-pathogen associations.