The mountain hare (Lepus timidus) population in southern Norway appears to be in decline. Necropsy and laboratory examinations of 36 hares found dead or diseased during 2007–2009 in Vest- and Aust-Agder counties showed that disease and deaths were attributed to multiple causes, with no specific etiology emerging as a cause for population decline. To investigate whether Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato (s.l.) infection is associated with mortality in mountain hares, tissues and ticks collected from hares were investigated for infection with the spirochete. Borrelia burgdorferi s.l. DNA was not detected in samples from internal organs, whereas Borrelia afzelii, B. burgdorferi sensu stricto (s.s.), and the not-yet-defined Borrelia sp. SV1 were found in skin samples from hares and in adult and nymphal Ixodes ricinus feeding on hares. Only B. burgdorferi s.s. and Borrelia sp. SV1 were detected in larvae feeding on hares. Our results indicate that disseminated Borrelia infection in hares rarely occurs and, presumably, does not play a central role in the suspected population decline. The results also suggest that the mountain hare to some degree functions as a transmission host for B. burgdorferi s.s. and Borrelia sp. SV1.
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Vol. 47 • No. 2