Birds as potential reservoirs of tick-borne pathogens: First evidence of bacteraemia with Rickettsia helvetica

Sándor Hornok, Dávid Kováts, Tibor Csörg, Marina L. Meli, Enik Gönczi, Zsófia Hadnagy, Nóra Takács, Róbert Farkas, Regina Hofmann-Lehmann

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68 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Birds have long been known as carriers of ticks, but data from the literature are lacking on their role as a reservoir in the epidemiology of certain tick-borne disease-causing agents. Therefore, the aim of this study was to evaluate the presence of three emerging, zoonotic tick-borne pathogens in blood samples and ticks of birds and to assess the impact of feeding location preference and migration distance of bird species on their tick infestation. Methods. Blood samples and ticks of birds were analysed with TaqMan real-time PCRs and conventional PCR followed by sequencing. Results: During the spring and autumn bird migrations, 128 blood samples and 140 ticks (Ixodes ricinus, Haemaphysalis concinna and a Hyalomma specimen) were collected from birds belonging to 16 species. The prevalence of tick infestation and the presence of tick species were related to the feeding and migration habits of avian hosts. Birds were shown to be bacteraemic with Rickettsia helvetica and Anaplasma phagocytophilum, but not with Candidatus Neoehrlichia mikurensis. The prevalence of rickettsiae was high (51.4%) in ticks, suggesting that some of them may have acquired their infection from their avian host. Conclusion: Based on the present results birds are potential reservoirs of both I. ricinus transmitted zoonotic pathogens, R. helvetica and A. phagocytophilum, but their epidemiological role appears to be less important concerning the latter, at least in Central Europe.

Original languageEnglish
Article number128
JournalParasites and Vectors
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 28 2014


  • Anaplasma phagocytophilum
  • Candidatus Neoehrlichia mikurensis
  • Ground feeding birds
  • Migratory birds
  • Rickettsia helvetica
  • Ticks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Infectious Diseases

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