Effect of deer density on tick infestation of rodents and the hazard of tick-borne encephalitis. II: population and infection models

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Bolzoni L., Rosà R., Cagnacci F., Rizzoli A.

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Int J Parasitol. 2012 Apr;42(4):373-81. Epub 2012 Mar 13.



Data description: 



Deer abundance, Rodent tick burden, Dilution effect, Ixodes ricinus, TBEV persistence, Tick Borne encephalitis, Basic reproduction number.


Tick-borne encephalitis is an emerging vector-borne zoonotic disease reported in several European and Asiatic countries with complex transmission routes that involve various vertebrate host species other than a tick vector. Understanding and quantifying the contribution of the different hosts involved in the TBE virus cycle is crucial in estimating the threshold conditions for virus emergence and spread. Some hosts, such as rodents, act both as feeding hosts for ticks and reservoirs of the infection. Other species, such as deer, provide important sources of blood for feeding ticks but they do not support TBE virus transmission, acting instead as dead-end (i.e., incompetent) hosts. Here, we introduce an eco-epidemiological model to explore the dynamics of tick populations and TBE virus infection in relation to the density of two key hosts. In particular, our aim is to validate and interpret in a robust theoretical framework the empirical findings regarding the effect of deer density on tick infestation on rodents and thus TBE virus occurrence from selected European foci. Model results show hump-shaped relationships between deer density and both feeding ticks on rodents and the basic reproduction number for TBE virus. This suggests that deer may act as tick amplifiers, but may also divert tick bites from competent hosts, thus diluting pathogen transmission. However, our model shows that the mechanism responsible for the dilution effect is more complex than the simple reduction of tick burden on competent hosts. Indeed, while the number of feeding ticks on rodents may increase with deer density, the proportion of blood meals on competent compared with incompetent hosts may decrease, triggering a decline in infection. As a consequence, using simply the number of ticks per rodent as a predictor of TBE transmission potential could be misleading if competent hosts share habitats with incompetent hosts.