Interrupted blood feeding in ticks: Causes and consequences

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Tahir, Djamel
Meyer, Leon
Fourie, Josephus
Jongejan, Frans
Mather, Thomas
Choumet, Valérie
Blagburn, Byron
Straubinger, Reinhard K.
Varloud, Marie
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Ticks are obligate hematophagous arthropods and act as vectors for a great variety of pathogens, including viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and helminths. Some tick-borne viruses, such as Powassan virus and tick-borne encephalitis virus, are transmissible within 15–60 min after tick attachment. However, a minimum of 3–24 h of tick attachment is necessary to effectively transmit bacterial agents such as Ehrlichia spp., Anaplasma spp., and Rickettsia spp. to a new host. Longer transmission periods were reported for Borrelia spp. and protozoans such as Babesia spp., which require a minimum duration of 24–48 h of tick attachment for maturation and migration of the pathogen. Laboratory observations indicate that the probability of transmission of tick-borne pathogens increases with the duration an infected tick is allowed to remain attached to the host. However, the transmission time may be shortened when partially fed infected ticks detach from their initial host and reattach to a new host, on which they complete their engorgement. For example, early transmission of tick-borne pathogens (e.g., Rickettsia rickettsii, Borrelia burgdorferi, and Babesia canis) and a significantly shorter transmission time were demonstrated in laboratory experiments by interrupted blood feeding. The relevance of such situations under field conditions remains poorly documented. In this review, we explore parameters of, and causes leading to, spontaneous interrupted feeding in nature, as well as the effects of this behavior on the minimum time required for transmission of tick-borne pathogens.