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Japanese Lyme Disease Strain Found in Chinese Mammals for the First Time

Published on Wed Jul 24 2019Lone Star Tick | Lisa Zins on Flickr Lone Star Tick | Lisa Zins on Flickr

A new study from China, has revealed a hidden world of Lyme disease bacteria thriving among small mammals in forested and high-altitude regions. Lyme disease, caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato (BBSL), is a major concern globally, and this comprehensive research highlights the risk factors and the diversity of BBSL genotypes present in China's diverse ecosystem. Remarkably, this is the first time that B. japonica was detected in Apodemus draco (local mouse species) and Niviventer excelsior (local rat species) in the region, indicating that the genetic diversity of BBSL in the area is broader than previously thought.

The vast study collected data from 3,659 small mammals across various landscapes, revealing that nearly 4% carried BBSL infections, with a higher prevalence in forested areas and altitudes above 2,500 meters. Detailed genetic analysis identified five different BBSL genotypes, with significant implications for understanding and managing the spread of Lyme disease in China and globally. This finding is not just an ecological concern but also a public health priority, considering the serious symptoms that Lyme disease can present in humans. The presence of multiple BBSL genotypes suggests the existence of a complex, natural network of infection that could be affected by factors like altitude and environment.

Researchers analyzed the landscape and altitudinal diversity, which showed that the prevalence of BBSL was significantly higher among small mammals in forested areas and at higher elevations. This association underscores the importance of considering environmental conditions when evaluating the risk of Lyme disease transmission. The fact that different genotypes of BBSL were identified, including one not previously associated with the disease in China, emphasizes the need for expanded clinical surveillance of human Lyme disease cases in Yunnan and similar regions.

These findings challenge us to rethink our approach to Lyme disease surveillance and prevention. With the documented variety of BBSL genotypes now known to circulate among small mammals in Southwestern China, there is a pressing need to assess the regional distribution of ticks and potential human exposure to these disease-causing bacteria. This study extends beyond academic boundaries and underscores the immediate need for public health authorities to update and intensify disease monitoring and control measures, especially in rural and forested areas where the risk appears to be the greatest.


Written by He, Z.-h., Jiang, B.-g., Gao, Z.-h., Shao, Z.-t., Zhang, Y., Liu, Z.-x., Li, Y.-q., Pu, E.-n., Tang, L., Yao, M.-g., Jia, N., von Fricken, M. E., Jiang, J.-f., Cao, W.-c., Du, C.-h.
Tags: Biology | Biology:Epidemiology

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