Penguins and Lyme Disease

by lmatthews on October 14, 2014

penguins and lyme diseaseBy now most people know that dogs and horses, and even cats can get Lyme disease, but new research published this month reveals that penguins in the southern hemisphere are also affected by Lyme disease bacteria.

Writing in the journal Ticks and Tick-Borne Diseases, Scramm and colleagues detail the results of blood tests on 50 adult king penguins in the Southern Indian Ocean and found that four birds tested positive for antibodies to Lyme disease bacteria and that two other birds had evidence of bacterial DNA.


This may be the first direct proof of the presence of Lyme disease affecting penguins in the Southern hemisphere. What’s more, this could indicate the presence of a viable reservoir for Borrelia burgdorferi in the south.

The Ixodes tick responsible for transmitting Lyme disease bacteria is known to use a number of seabirds as hosts in the circumpolar regions. Indeed, these seabirds were presumed to be a reliable reservoir for Borrelia burgdorferi and the zoonosis that is Lyme disease. However, prior to this latest research, just one study had found evidence of infection of seabirds with Lyme disease bacteria, and that was in the Northern hemisphere.

Schramm, et al., looked at tick-infested Aptenodytes patagonicus halli (king penguins) breeding in the Crozet Archipelago and tested them by serology and using in vitro DNA amplification. Their results suggest that penguins carrying Lyme disease bacteria may act as a host for the zoonosis and may even contribute to the spread of Borrelia worldwide.

Reference

Schramm F1, Gauthier-Clerc M2, Fournier JC3, McCoy KD4, Barthel C5, Postic D6, Handrich Y7, Le Maho Y7, Jaulhac B5. First detection of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato DNA in king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus halli). Ticks Tick Borne Dis. 2014 Oct;5(6):939-42. doi: 10.1016/j.ttbdis.2014.07.013. Epub 2014 Aug 20.

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