Human Babesiosis on Nantucket Island: Transmission by Nymphal Ixodes Ticks

Andrew SpielmanDepartment of Tropical Public Health, Harvard School of Public Health, 665 Huntington Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02115

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In order to identify potential vectors of human babesiosis (Babesia microti) in southern Massachusetts, I attempted to transmit the infection via nymphal ticks of that species found to be most abundant on reservoir hosts (Peromyscus leucopus) in nature. Mice were collected at frequent intervals throughout a year in a known enzootic focus on Nantucket Island, and ticks were removed by hand. Ticks of only two species were present; larvae and nymphs of Ixodes scapularis were about 10 times as numerous as were those of Dermacentor variabilis. Accordingly, I. scapularis were used in attempts to transmit a strain of Babesia derived from a human infection recently acquired near the study site. Larvae were permitted to feed on an infected hamster and nymphs derived from these larvae were placed on each of 11 non-infected hamsters. All but one hamster became infected. Nymphs reared from larvae that had attached to a non-infected hamster did not transmit babesiosis to other hamsters. These results suggest that I. scapularis serves as a vector of babesiosis on Nantucket Island.