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      Epidemic Spread of Lyme Borreliosis, Northeastern United States

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          Host specialization is a key issue in infectious disease research because patterns of cross-species transmission affect parasite dispersal.


          We examined the degree of host specialization of different strains of Borrelia burgdorferi, the tickborne pathogen that causes Lyme borreliosis in the northeastern United States. We first assessed the genetic population structures of B. burgdorferi in ticks obtained from different mammalian host species and in questing ticks sampled in a woodland ecosystem in Connecticut. By comparing the patterns found in our study with data from another cross-sectional study, we demonstrate that B. burgdorferi is a generalist microparasite and conclude that efficient cross-species transmission of B. burgdorferi is a key feature that has allowed the rapid spread of Lyme borreliosis across the northeastern United States.

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          Most cited references 39

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          The ecology of infectious disease: effects of host diversity and community composition on Lyme disease risk.

          The extent to which the biodiversity and community composition of ecosystems affect their functions is an issue that grows ever more compelling as human impacts on ecosystems increase. We present evidence that supports a novel function of vertebrate biodiversity, the buffering of human risk of exposure to Lyme-disease-bearing ticks. We tested the Dilution Effect model, which predicts that high species diversity in the community of tick hosts reduces vector infection prevalence by diluting the effects of the most competent disease reservoir, the ubiquitous white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus). As habitats are degraded by fragmentation or other anthropogenic forces, some members of the host community disappear. Thus, species-poor communities tend to have mice, but few other hosts, whereas species-rich communities have mice, plus many other potential hosts. We demonstrate that the most common nonmouse hosts are relatively poor reservoirs for the Lyme spirochete and should reduce the prevalence of the disease by feeding, but rarely infecting, ticks. By accounting for nearly every host species' contribution to the number of larval ticks fed and infected, we show that as new host species are added to a depauperate community, the nymphal infection prevalence, a key risk factor, declines. We identify important "dilution hosts" (e.g., squirrels), characterized by high tick burdens, low reservoir competence, and high population density, as well as "rescue hosts" (e.g., shrews), which are capable of maintaining high disease risk when mouse density is low. Our study suggests that the preservation of vertebrate biodiversity and community composition can reduce the incidence of Lyme disease.
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            Specialization: species property or local phenomenon?

            Many herbivorous insects have generalized diets over the species' entire geographical ranges but they function as specialists with restricted diets in local communities. Local feeding specialization can be produced by biochemical, behavioral, ecological, and evolutionary processes. Much evidence is incompatible with the widely held assumptions that diet breadth is a species characteristic and that specialization among herbivorous insects implies greater efficiency and less niche overlap.
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              Population biology of multihost pathogens.

              The majority of pathogens, including many of medical and veterinary importance, can infect more than one species of host. Population biology has yet to explain why perceived evolutionary advantages of pathogen specialization are, in practice, outweighed by those of generalization. Factors that predispose pathogens to generalism include high levels of genetic diversity and abundant opportunities for cross-species transmission, and the taxonomic distributions of generalists and specialists appear to reflect these factors. Generalism also has consequences for the evolution of virulence and for pathogen epidemiology, making both much less predictable. The evolutionary advantages and disadvantages of generalism are so finely balanced that even closely related pathogens can have very different host range sizes.

                Author and article information

                Emerg Infect Dis
                Emerging Infectious Diseases
                Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
                April 2006
                : 12
                : 4
                : 604-611
                [* ]Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
                Author notes
                Address for correspondence: Klára Hanincová, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Yale School of Medicine, Yale University, 60 College St, New Haven, CT 06520, USA; fax: 203-785-3604; email: klara.hanincova@ 123456yale.edu

                Infectious disease & Microbiology

                spread, host specialization, zoonoses, lyme borreliosis, research, ticks


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