The Contribution of Wildlife Hosts to the Rise of Ticks and Tick-Borne Diseases in North America

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Tsao, Jean I.
Hamer, Sarah A.
Han, Seungeun
Sidge, Jennifer L.
Hickling, Graham J.
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Abstract Wildlife vertebrate hosts are integral to enzootic cycles of tick-borne pathogens, and in some cases have played key roles in the recent rise of ticks and tick-borne diseases in North America. In this forum article, we highlight roles that wildlife hosts play in the maintenance and transmission of zoonotic, companion animal, livestock, and wildlife tick-borne pathogens. We begin by illustrating how wildlife contribute directly and indirectly to the increase and geographic expansion of ticks and their associated pathogens. Wildlife provide blood meals for tick growth and reproduction; serve as pathogen reservoirs; and can disperse ticks and pathogens—either through natural movement (e.g., avian migration) or through human-facilitated movement (e.g., wildlife translocations and trade). We then discuss opportunities to manage tick-borne disease through actions directed at wildlife hosts. To conclude, we highlight key gaps in our understanding of the ecology of tick–host interactions, emphasizing that wildlife host communities are themselves a very dynamic component of tick–pathogen–host systems and therefore complicate management of tick-borne diseases, and should be taken into account when considering host-targeted approaches. Effective management of wildlife to reduce tick-borne disease risk further requires consideration of the ‘human dimensions’ of wildlife management. This includes understanding the public’s diverse views and values about wildlife and wildlife impacts—including the perceived role of wildlife in fostering tick-borne diseases. Public health agencies should capitalize on the expertise of wildlife agencies when developing strategies to reduce tick-borne disease risks.