Ticks are important carriers of many different zoonotic pathogens. To date, there are many studies about ticks and tick-borne pathogens (TBP), but only a few were carried out in Bulgaria. The present study intends to detect the prevalence of tick-borne bacteria and parasites occurring at the Black Sea in Bulgaria to evaluate the zoonotic potential of the tick-borne pathogens transmitted by ticks in this area.
In total, cDNA from 1541 ticks (Dermacentor spp., Haemaphysalis spp., Hyalomma spp., Ixodes spp. and Rhipicephalus spp.) collected in Bulgaria by flagging method or from hosts was tested in pools of ten individuals each for Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Babesia spp., Borrelia burgdorferi (s.l.), Rickettsia spp. and "Candidatus Neoehrlichia mikurensis" via conventional and quantitative real-time PCR. Subsequently, samples from positive pools were tested individually and a randomized selection of positive PCR samples was purified, sequenced, and analyzed.
Altogether, 23.2% of ticks were infected with at least one of the tested pathogens. The highest infection levels were noted in nymphs (32.3%) and females (27.5%). Very high prevalence was detected for Rickettsia spp. (48.3%), followed by A. phagocytophilum (6.2%), Borrelia burgdorferi (s.l.) (1.7%), Babesia spp. (0.4%) and "Ca. Neoehrlichia mikurensis" (0.1%). Co-infections were found in 2.5% of the tested ticks (mainly Ixodes spp.). Sequencing revealed the presence of Rickettsia monacensis, R. helvetica, and R. aeschlimannii, Babesia microti and B. caballi, and Theileria buffeli and Borrelia afzelli.
This study shows very high prevalence of zoonotic Rickettsia spp. in ticks from Bulgaria and moderate to low prevalence for all other pathogens tested. One should take into account that tick bites from this area could lead to Rickettsia infection in humans and mammals.