APR 22, 2015 2:03 PM PDT

Study May Link Grey Squirrels In UK To Lyme Disease

WRITTEN BY: Andrew J. Dunlop
In America, Gray squirrels are often thought of as "cute", but in Europe they are not looked on nearly as favorably. Europeans have their reasons. The gray squirrel (or grey squirrel as they're referred to in the UK) is a non-native, invasive species in Europe. They crowd out native european squirrel populations, and they alter the way that forests there grow. Adding to those old concerns is a new and troubling one: A recent study shows that gray squirrels in the UK are carriers of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease in humans.

A UK gray squirrel

Lyme disease is caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato bacteria. It is transmitted to humans through a bite from the Ixodes ricinus, commonly known as the deer tick or the sheep tick in the UK. The main carriers of these ticks are birds and rodents. The ticks pick up borrelia from biting and feeding on these carrier species and then transmit the borrelia to humans when they bite and feed on them.

Caroline Millins, a graduate student at the University of Glasgow's Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health, and Comparative Medicine is the lead author of the new study which recently appeared in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, the journal of The American Society for Microbiology. "Grey squirrels are abundant and widely distributed in the UK," Millins said, "so we were interested in finding out how this invasive species may contribute to maintaining the bacteria which causes Lyme disease in humans."

Millins and her team tested 679 squirrels from across Scotland and the north of England in 2012 and 2013. They found that grey squirrels usually carried ticks, and that roughly 12% of the squirrels collected were infected with Borrelia. A surprising finding was the most common strain of Borrelia found in these squirrels is a strain that is usually found in birds. "Frequent infection of grey squirrels with bird strains of Borrelia was unexpected," Millins said, "and challenges our current understanding of host pathogen interactions for this zoonotic pathogen. ... We found quite different patterns and duration of infection in grey squirrels compared to native woodland rodent species. Grey squirrels become infected with whichever strains are circulating in the local area, and our models suggest that the duration of infection isn't life-long. In contrast, native rodents tend to develop chronic lifelong infections with strains of Borrelia that have adapted to these hosts. ... We can't say from this study whether grey squirrels lead to an increase or decrease in the number of ticks infected with Borrelia species in an area," Millins explained, "but we have produced comprehensive baseline data that future studies could use to investigate this."



(Source: phys.org)
About the Author
Andrew J. Dunlop lives and writes in a little town near Boston. He's interested in space, the Earth, and the way that humans and other species live on it.
You May Also Like
JUL 31, 2022
Microbiology
Bacterial Pathogen That Causes a Tropical Disease Now Found in the US
JUL 31, 2022
Bacterial Pathogen That Causes a Tropical Disease Now Found in the US
A bacterium that causes a deadly tropical disease called meliodosis, sometimes known as Whitmore's disease, has been det ...
AUG 04, 2022
Technology
The greatest semiconductor of all time?
AUG 04, 2022
The greatest semiconductor of all time?
In a recent study published in Science, a team of researchers claim that cubic boron arsenide is the greatest semiconduc ...
AUG 09, 2022
Earth & The Environment
Tropical ozone hole larger than Antarctic ozone hole
AUG 09, 2022
Tropical ozone hole larger than Antarctic ozone hole
In a recent single-author study published in AIP Advances, Qing-Bin Lu, a scientist from the University of Waterloo in O ...
AUG 16, 2022
Coronavirus
Covid Lockdown Cleaned up the Air
AUG 16, 2022
Covid Lockdown Cleaned up the Air
In a recent experimental study published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, a collaborative research team from German ...
AUG 16, 2022
Chemistry & Physics
Balloons Sent from the Earth Could Detect Quakes on Venus
AUG 16, 2022
Balloons Sent from the Earth Could Detect Quakes on Venus
During the Cold War, the US military launched a secret project to spy on the Soviet Union by sending microphones attache ...
SEP 08, 2022
Chemistry & Physics
Boiling Away Forever Chemicals
SEP 08, 2022
Boiling Away Forever Chemicals
Forever chemicals are in hot water. In a paper published on August 18 in Science, researchers at the University of Calif ...
Loading Comments...