Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases, Available online 20 August 2014.
The hard tick Ixodes uriae parasitises a wide range of seabird species in the circumpolar areas of both Northern and Southern hemispheres and has been shown to be infected with Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato, the bacterial agents of Lyme borreliosis. Although it is assumed that seabirds represent viable reservoir hosts, direct demonstrations of infection are limited to a single study from the Northern hemisphere. Here, the blood of 50 tick-infested adult king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus halli) breeding in the Crozet Archipelago (Southern Indian Ocean) was examined for B. burgdorferi sl exposure by serology and for spirochetemia by in vitro DNA amplification. Four birds were found positive by serology, whereas B. burgdorferi sl DNA was detected in two other birds. Our data therefore provide the first direct proof of Borrelia burgdorferi sl spirochetes in seabirds of the Southern hemisphere and indicate a possible reservoir role for king penguins in the natural maintenance of this bacterium. Although the bacterial genetic diversity present in these hosts and the infectious period for tick vectors remain to be elucidated, our results add to a growing body of knowledge on the contribution of seabirds to the complex epizootiology of Lyme disease and the global dissemination of B. burgdorferi sl spirochetes.