Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Dr. Cheryl Davis (Director), Dr. Nancy Rice, Dr. Rodney King

Degree Program

Department of Biology

Degree Type

Master of Science


The incidence of tick-borne zoonoses such as Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Lyme disease has steadily increased in the southeastern United States in recent years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the southeastern states accounted for 1,200 of the 27,000 total cases of Lyme disease reported in the U.S. in 2007. Although Ixodes scapularis is the most commonly recognized vector for the Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi, Dermacentor variabilis (a common vector for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever) also has been shown to be a viable host for this pathogen. The purpose of the present study was to use PCR and DNA sequencing technologies to determine if Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato is present in ticks and whole blood samples removed from raccoons and opossums trapped in south-central Kentucky.
Raccoons and opossums were trapped in Barren and Warren counties of Kentucky between June 2007 and June 2008. Ticks were removed and stored in 70% ethanol. Sterile blood samples were collected into three 10 ml tubes containing the anticoagulant K2EDTA and stored at 4°C. Genomic DNA was extracted from ticks and blood samples using a QIAamp DNA mini kit and a QIAamp DNA blood mini kit (Qiagen) respectively. DNA samples were analyzed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for the presence of B. burgdorferi using oligonucleotide primers specific for the OspA gene.
A total of 976 ticks were collected. Three different species were obtained from raccoons; Dermacentor variabilis, Amblyomma americanum, and Ixodes sp. Dermacentor variabilis was the only tick species found on opossums. Twenty-five percent (163/642) of the tick DNA samples were positive for Borrelia burgdorferi. Prevalence of B. burgdorferi by tick species was 24.4% (141/577) in D. variabilis, 40.6% (13/32) in A. americanum, and 27.6% (8/29) in I. scapularis. In the present study, 15.7% (8/51) of the total raccoon blood samples examined by PCR were positive for B. burgdorferi, while no opossum blood samples were positive. The high prevalence of B. burgdorferi in ticks common to raccoons and opossums observed in this study, as well as in a tick species that aggressively bites humans in the southeast U. S. (A. americanum), creates concern that there are ample opportunities for people to come in contact with the infected ticks on these animals. Future studies are urgently needed to fully assess the presence and prevalence of B. burgdorferi in Kentucky and other southeastern states in the U. S.


Cell Biology | Genetics | Public Health