Serological signature of tick-borne pathogens in Scandinavian brown bears over two decades Tue, 28/07/2015 - 13:00 Background: Anthropogenic disturbances are changing the geographic distribution of ticks and tick-borne diseases. Over the last few decades, the tick Ixodes ricinus has expanded its range and abundance considerably in northern Europe. Concurrently, the incidence of tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme borreliosis and tick-borne encephalitis, has increased in the human populations of the Scandinavian countries. Methods: Wildlife populations can serve as sentinels for changes in the distribution of tick-borne diseases. We used serum samples from a long-term study on the Scandinavian brown bear, Ursus arctos, and standard immunological methods to test whether exposure to Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato, the causative agent of Lyme borreliosis, and tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) had increased over time. Bears had been sampled over a period of 18 years (1995–2012) from a southern area, where Ixodes ricinus ticks are present, and a northern area where ticks are uncommon or absent. Results: Bears had high levels of IgG antibodies against B. burgdorferi sensu lato but not TBEV. Bears at the southern area had higher values of anti-Borrelia IgG antibodies than bears at the northern area. Over the duration of the study, the value of anti-Borrelia IgG antibodies increased in the southern area but not the northern area. Anti-Borrelia IgG antibodies increased with the age of the bear but declined in the oldest age classes. Conclusions: Our study is consistent with the view that ticks and tick-borne pathogens are expanding their abundance and prevalence in Scandinavia. Long-term serological monitoring of large mammals can provide insight into how anthropogenic disturbances are changing the distribution of ticks and tick-borne diseases.