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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Human Seroprevalence of Tick-Borne Anaplasma phagocytophilum , Borrelia burgdorferi , and Rickettsia Species in Northern California

Emily L Pascoe, Nicole Stephenson, Ashley Abigana, Deana Clifford, Mourad Gabriel, Greta Wengert, Richard Brown, Mark Higley, Evan M Bloch, Janet E Foley
Vector Borne and Zoonotic Diseases 2019 July 11
31295054
There is a paucity of data on human exposure to tick-borne pathogens in the western United States. This study reports prevalence of antibodies against three clinically important tick-borne pathogens ( Borrelia burgdorferi , Anaplasma phagocytophilum , and Rickettsia spp.) among 249 people in five counties in northern California. Individuals from Humboldt County were recruited and answered a questionnaire to assess risk of exposure to tick-borne pathogens. Samples from other counties were obtained from a blood bank and were anonymized. Seventeen (6.8%) samples were seropositive for antibodies against at least one pathogen: five for A. phagocytophilum , eight for B. burgdorferi , and four for Rickettsia spp. Women and people aged 26-35 had higher seroprevalence compared to other demographic groups. Santa Cruz County had no seropositive individuals, northern Central Valley counties had three seropositive individuals (all against A. phagocytophilum ), and Humboldt County had 14 (all three pathogens), a significant, four-fold elevated risk of exposure. The Humboldt County questionnaire revealed that a bird feeder in the yard was statistically associated with exposure to ticks, and lifetime number of tick bites was associated with increasing age, time watching wildlife, and time hiking. Three-quarters of respondents were concerned about tick-associated disease, 81.0% reported experiencing tick bites, and 39.0% of those bitten reported a tick-borne disease symptom, including skin lesions (76.4%), muscle aches (49.1%), joint pain (25.5%), or fever (23.6%). Despite high levels of concern, many individuals who had been bitten by a tick were not tested for a tick-borne pathogen, including those with consistent symptoms. We highlight the need for further research and dissemination of information to residents and physicians in Northern California regarding tick-associated disease, so that appropriate medical attention can be rapidly sought and administered.

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