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Skuballa et al (2007) European hedgehogs as hosts for borrelia spp in Germany

Title: European Hedgehogs as Hosts for Borrelia spp., Germany, Emerging Infectious Diseases 13(6); 952-953, 2007

Authors: J. Skuballa, R. Oehme, K. Hartelt, T. Petney, T.Bücher, P. Kimmig & H. Taraschewski

Country: Germany

Background to study

The European hedgehog is known to carry a variety of ticks that are known vectors of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato. and tick-borne encephalitis virus.  This study investigates the role of the hedgehog as a host or reservoir for B. burgdorferi s.l. group in Germany.

Method

  • 43 hedgehog carcasses were obtained from an experimental urban plot (n = 9) and from various care centres across Germany. All hedgehogs died of natural causes.
  • DNA was extracted from tissue samples taken from the kidneys (n=43), heart (n=22) and bladder (n = 33) and pathogen detection was performed by a) isolating the spacer region between 5S and 23S rRNA genes of burgdorferi s. l. and b) by a hybridisation assay that simultaneously detects and genotypes 2 genomic groups of B. burgdorferi s.l. In both instances, the presence of B. burgdorferi s.l. was confirmed if DNA from B. burgdorferi s. l. was successfully amplified and that the resulting gene sequences matched those that were published for Borrelia genospecies.

Key results

  • Borrelia were clearly defined using both gene sequences derived from 6 hedgehogs.
  • spielmanii and B. garinii DNA was detected in the kidneys and the heart of 2 hedgehogs respectively and B. afzelii DNA was detected in the kidney of 2 animals and bladder 1 animal.
  • In one hedgehog, afzelii DNA was detected in the kidney and bladder and B. garinii DNA in the heart.
  • Hedgehogs from both peri-urban and rural environments were identified to be infected with Borrelia
  • Overall, at least 3 of the 5 recognised Borrelia genospecies found in Germany were identified in tissue samples obtained from hedgehogs, all of which are known or suspected to be pathogens for humans.

Key messages to landowners and managers derived from these results

  • Extreme care must be taken when handling captive and rehabilitating hedgehogs as risk of tick bite and subsequent infection of tick-borne pathogens is potentially high.
  • Awareness should be raised to the risk of tick bites and related pathogens in urban areas, where hedgehogs, amongst other species, may act as a reservoir host to Borrelia

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