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Isolation of Lyme Disease Borrelia from Puffins (Fratercula arctica) and Seabird Ticks (Ixodes uriae) on the Faeroe Islands

  • Åsa Gylfe
  • Björn Olsen
  • Darius Straševičius
  • Nuria Marti Ras
  • Pál Weihe
  • Laila Noppa
  • Yngve Östberg
  • Guy Baranton
  • Sven Bergström
American Society for Microbiology
Publication Date
Apr 01, 1999
  • Biology
  • Medicine


This is the first report on the isolation of Lyme disease Borrelia from seabirds on the Faeroe Islands and the characteristics of its enzootic cycle. The major components of the Borrelia cycle include the puffin (Fratercula arctica) as the reservoir and Ixodes uriae as the vector. The importance of this cycle and its impact on the spread of human Lyme borreliosis have not yet been established. Borrelia spirochetes isolated from 2 of 102 sampled puffins were compared to the borreliae previously obtained from seabird ticks, I. uriae. The rrf-rrl intergenic spacer and the rrs and the ospC genes were sequenced and a series of phylogenetic trees were constructed. Sequence data and restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis grouped the strains together with Borrelia garinii. In a seroepidemiological survey performed with residents involved in puffin hunting on the Faeroe Islands, 3 of 81 serum samples were found to be positive by two commonly used clinical tests: a flagellin-based enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and Western blotting. These three positive serum samples also had high optical density values in a whole-cell ELISA. The finding of seropositive Faeroe Islanders who are regularly exposed to I. uriae indicate that there may be a transfer of B. garinii by this tick species to humans.

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