The prevalence of infection of Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) with Borrelia spp. was evaluated in an area of northwestern California (USA) where Lyme disease is endemic and the relapsing-fever group spirochete Borrelia coriaceae is enzootic, and in a far-removed comparison area having a disparate climate and lower density of vector ticks. Blood samples collected from both deer herds in 1987, 1988, and from 2000–02 were assayed for borrelial infection with microscopic and molecular methods. Serum specimens from two (5%) of 39 deer from the Dye Creek Preserve in Tehama County versus 13 (20%) of 64 animals from the Hopland Research and Extension Center (HREC) in Mendocino County, California were polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test positive for B. burgdorferi sensu lato. DNA sequencing analyses revealed that eight animals were infected with B. bissettii, six with three unclassified genotypes, and one with B. burgdorferi sensu stricto. One serum sample (2%) from HREC was positive for a relapsing-fever group spirochete that had a 16S rRNA sequence homology of 99% with the C053 type strain of B. coriaceae. Spirochetes undetermined to genospecies were detected in thick-blood drops prepared from three (8%) of 36 deer from the HREC by direct immunofluorescence. Adults of the hippoboscid flies Lipoptena depressa (n=73) and Neolipoptena ferrisi (n=24), the Pacific Coast tick (Dermacentor occidentalis) (n=22), and the western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus) (n=1) that had been removed from deer from both study areas in 2002 were PCR test negative for borreliae. The occurrence of diverse borreliae in deer from northern California confounds and, consequently, reduces the utility of borrelial serosurveys for detecting specific genospecies, unless they are complemented by more specific assays (e.g., immunoblotting, PCR/sequencing analysis).
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Vol. 41 • No. 1