Persistence of pathogens with short infectious periods in seasonal tick populations: the relative importance of three transmission routes.
ABSTRACT: The flaviviruses causing tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) persist at low but consistent levels in tick populations, despite short infectious periods in their mammalian hosts and transmission periods constrained by distinctly seasonal tick life cycles. In addition to systemic and vertical transmission, cofeeding transmission has been proposed as an important route for the persistence of TBE-causing viruses. Because cofeeding transmission requires ticks to feed simultaneously, the timing of tick activity may be critical to pathogen persistence. Existing models of tick-borne diseases do not incorporate all transmission routes and tick seasonality. Our aim is to evaluate the influence of seasonality on the relative importance of different transmission routes by using a comprehensive mathematical model.We developed a stage-structured population model that includes tick seasonality and evaluated the relative importance of the transmission routes for pathogens with short infectious periods, in particular Powassan virus (POWV) and the related "deer tick virus," emergent encephalitis-causing flaviviruses in North America. We used the next generation matrix method to calculate the basic reproductive ratio and performed elasticity analyses. We confirmed that cofeeding transmission is critically important for such pathogens to persist in seasonal tick populations over the reasonable range of parameter values. At higher but still plausible rates of vertical transmission, our model suggests that vertical transmission can strongly enhance pathogen prevalence when it operates in combination with cofeeding transmission.Our results demonstrate that the consistent prevalence of POWV observed in tick populations could be maintained by a combination of low vertical, intermediate cofeeding and high systemic transmission rates. When vertical transmission is weak, nymphal ticks support integral parts of the transmission cycle that are critical for maintaining the pathogen. We also extended the model to pathogens that cause chronic infections in hosts and found that cofeeding transmission could contribute to elevating prevalence even in these systems. Therefore, the common assumption that cofeeding transmission is not relevant in models of chronic host infection, such as Lyme disease, could lead to underestimating pathogen prevalence.
Project description:Powassan virus (POWV) is an encephalitic tick-borne flavivirus which can result in serious neuroinvasive disease with up to a 10% case fatality rate. The study objective was to determine whether the salivary gland extract (SGE) from Ixodes scapularis ticks facilitates the transmission and dissemination of POWV in a process known as saliva-activated transmission. Groups of BALB/c mice were footpad inoculated with either a high dose of POWV with and without SGE or a low dose of POWV with and without SGE. Mice from each group were sacrificed daily. Organ viral loads and gene expression profiles were evaluated by quantitative real-time PCR. Both groups of mice infected with high-dose POWV showed severe neurological signs of disease preceding death. The presence of SGE did not affect POWV transmission or disease outcome for mice infected with the high dose of POWV. Neuroinvasion, paralysis, and death occurred for all mice infected with the low dose of POWV plus SGE; however, for mice infected with the low dose of POWV in the absence of SGE, there were no clinical signs of infection and no mice succumbed to disease. Although this group displayed low-level viremias, all mice were completely healthy, and it was the only group in which POWV was cleared from the lymph nodes. We conclude that saliva-activated transmission occurs in mice infected with a low dose of POWV. Our study is the first to demonstrate virus dose-dependent saliva-activated transmission, warranting further investigation of the specific salivary factors responsible for enhancing POWV transmission.Powassan virus (POWV) is a tick-borne flavivirus that continues to emerge in the United States, as is evident by the surge in number and expanding geographic range of confirmed cases in the past decade. This neuroinvasive virus is transmitted to humans by infected tick bites. Successful tick feeding is facilitated by a collection of pharmacologically active factors in tick saliva. In a process known as saliva-activated transmission, tick bioactive salivary molecules are thought to modulate the host environment, making it more favorable for the transmission and establishment of a pathogen. This phenomenon has been demonstrated for several tick-borne pathogens; however, a systematic investigation of the role of tick saliva on dissemination and pathogenesis of a tick-borne viral disease has never been attempted before. This study will fill that gap by systematically examining whether the presence of tick saliva contributes to the transmission and dissemination of POWV in mice.
Project description:Successful tick feeding is facilitated by an assortment of pharmacologically-active factors in tick saliva that create an immunologically privileged micro-environment in the host's skin. Through a process known as saliva-assisted transmission, bioactive tick salivary factors modulate the host environment, promoting transmission and establishment of a tick-borne pathogen. This phenomenon was previously demonstrated for Powassan virus (POWV), a North American tick-borne flavivirus that is the causative agent of a severe neuroinvasive disease in humans. Here, we sought to characterize the Ixodes scapularis salivary gland microRNAs (miRNAs) expressed during the earliest period of POWV transmission to a mammalian host. POWV-infected and uninfected I. scapularis females were fed on naïve mice for 1, 3, and 6?hours, and Illumina next generation sequencing was used to characterize the salivary gland miRNA expression profiles of POWV-infected versus uninfected ticks. 379 salivary miRNAs were detected, of which 338 are reported here as putative novel I. scapularis miRNAs. 35 salivary gland miRNAs were significantly up-regulated and 17 miRNAs were significantly down-regulated in response to POWV infection. To investigate the potential role of salivary gland miRNAs in POWV replication in-vitro, we transfected miRNA inhibitors into VeroE6 cells to profile temporal POWV replication in mammalian cells. Together, the small RNA sequencing data and the in vitro miRNA inhibition assay suggest that the differentially expressed tick salivary miRNAs could act in regulating POWV replication in host tissues.
Project description:Skin is the interface between an attached, feeding tick and a host; consequently, it is the first line of defense against invading pathogenic microorganisms that are delivered to a vertebrate host together with tick saliva. Central to the successful transmission of a tick-borne pathogen are complex interactions between the host immune response and early tick-mediated immunomodulation, all of which initially occur at the skin interface. The focus of this work was to demonstrate the use of RNA in situ hybridization (RNA ISH) as a tool for understanding the cellular localization of viral RNA at the feeding site of Powassan virus (POWV)-infected Ixodes scapularis ticks. Intense positive staining for POWV RNA was frequently detected in dermal foci and occasionally detected in hypodermal foci after 24 h of POWV-infected tick feeding. Additionally, duplex chromogenic RNA ISH staining demonstrated co-localization of POWV RNA with Mus musculus F4/80 RNA, CD11c RNA, vimentin RNA, Krt14 RNA, and CD3? RNA at the feeding site of POWV-infected ticks. In future studies, RNA ISH can be used to validate transcriptomic analyses conducted at the tick-virus-host cutaneous interface and will provide cellular resolution for specific gene signatures temporally expressed during infected tick feeding. Such a systems biology approach will help create a more refined understanding of the cellular and molecular interactions influencing virus transmission at the cutaneous interface.
Project description:Vaccines that target blood-feeding disease vectors, such as mosquitoes and ticks, have the potential to protect against the many diseases caused by vector-borne pathogens. We tested the ability of an anti-tick vaccine derived from a tick cement protein (64TRP) of Rhipicephalus appendiculatus to protect mice against tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) transmitted by infected Ixodes ricinus ticks. The vaccine has a "dual action" in immunized animals: when infested with ticks, the inflammatory and immune responses first disrupt the skin feeding site, resulting in impaired blood feeding, and then specific anti-64TRP antibodies cross-react with midgut antigenic epitopes, causing rupture of the tick midgut and death of engorged ticks. Three parameters were measured: "transmission," number of uninfected nymphal ticks that became infected when cofeeding with an infected adult female tick; "support," number of mice supporting virus transmission from the infected tick to cofeeding uninfected nymphs; and "survival," number of mice that survived infection by tick bite and subsequent challenge by intraperitoneal inoculation of a lethal dose of TBEV. We show that one dose of the 64TRP vaccine protects mice against lethal challenge by infected ticks; control animals developed a fatal viral encephalitis. The protective effect of the 64TRP vaccine was comparable to that of a single dose of a commercial TBEV vaccine, while the transmission-blocking effect of 64TRP was better than that of the antiviral vaccine in reducing the number of animals supporting virus transmission. By contrast, the commercial antitick vaccine (TickGARD) that targets only the tick's midgut showed transmission-blocking activity but was not protective. The 64TRP vaccine demonstrates the potential to control vector-borne disease by interfering with pathogen transmission, apparently by mediating a local cutaneous inflammatory immune response at the tick-feeding site.
Project description:Powassan virus (POWV) is a tick-borne zoonosis maintained in natural enzootic cycles between ixodid ticks and wild mammals. Reported human cases have increased in recent years; these infections can be fatal or lead to long-term neurologic sequelae. However, both the geographic distribution and the role of common, potential mammalian hosts in POWV transmission are poorly understood, creating challenges to public health surveillance. We looked for evidence of POWV infection among candidate wildlife host species and ticks collected from mammals and birds in southern Ontario. Tissues (including blood) and ticks from trapped wild mammals were collected in the summers of 2015 and 2016. Ticks removed from dogs in 2015-2016 and wildlife diagnostic cases from 2011 to 2013 were also included. Tissue and tick (Ixodes spp.) homogenates were tested for POWV by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). In addition, sera from wild mammals were tested for antibodies to POWV, West Nile virus (WNV), and heartland virus (HRTV) by plaque reduction neutralization test. All 724 tissue samples were negative for POWV by RT-PCR. One of 53 pools of Ixodes cookei (among 98 total tick pools) was RT-PCR positive for deer tick virus (POWV) lineage. Antibodies to POWV and WNV were detected in 0.4% of 265 and 6.1% of 264 samples, respectively, and all of 219 serum samples tested negative for anti-HRTV antibodies. These results reveal low POWV detection rates in southern Ontario, while highlighting the challenges and need for continued efforts into understanding POWV epidemiology and targeted surveillance strategies.
Project description:Ixodes scapularis ticks transmit many infectious agents that cause disease, including tick-borne flaviviruses (TBFVs). TBFV infections cause thousands of human encephalitis cases worldwide annually. In the United States, human TBFV infections with Powassan virus (POWV) are increasing and have a fatality rate of 10 to 30%. Additionally, Langat virus (LGTV) is a TBFV of low neurovirulence and is used as a model TBFV. TBFV replication and dissemination within I. scapularis organs are poorly characterized, and a deeper understanding of virus biology in this vector may inform effective countermeasures to reduce TBFV transmission. Here, we describe short-term, I. scapularis organ culture models of TBFV infection. Ex vivo organs were metabolically active for 9 to 10 days and were permissive to LGTV and POWV replication. Imaging and videography demonstrated replication and spread of green fluorescent protein-expressing LGTV in the organs. Immunohistochemical staining confirmed LGTV envelope and POWV protein synthesis within the infected organs. LGTV- and POWV-infected organs produced infectious LGTV and POWV; thus, the ex vivo cultures were suitable for study of virus replication in individual organs. LGTV- and POWV-infected midgut and salivary glands were subjected to double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) transfection with dsRNA to the LGTV 3' untranslated region (UTR), which reduced infectious LGTV and POWV replication, providing a proof-of-concept use of RNA interference in I. scapularis organ cultures to study the effects on TBFV replication. The results contribute important information on TBFV localization within ex vivo I. scapularis organs and provide a significant translational tool for evaluating recombinant, live vaccine candidates and potential tick transcripts and proteins for possible therapeutic use and vaccine development to reduce TBFV transmission.IMPORTANCE Tick-borne flavivirus (TBFV) infections cause neurological and/or hemorrhagic disease in humans worldwide. There are currently no licensed therapeutics or vaccines against Powassan virus (POWV), the only TBFV known to circulate in North America. Evaluating tick vector targets for antitick vaccines directed at reducing TBFV infection within the arthropod vector is a critical step in identifying efficient approaches to controlling TBFV transmission. This study characterized infection of female Ixodes scapularis tick organ cultures of midgut, salivary glands, and synganglion with the low-neurovirulence Langat virus (LGTV) and the more pathogenic POWV. Cell types of specific organs were susceptible to TBFV infection, and a difference in LGTV and POWV replication was noted in TBFV-infected organs. This tick organ culture model of TBFV infection will be useful for various applications, such as screening of tick endogenous dsRNA corresponding to potential control targets within midgut and salivary glands to confirm restriction of TBFV infection.
Project description:Estimating the tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) infection risk under substantial uncertainties of the vector abundance, environmental condition and human-tick interaction is important for evidence-informed public health intervention strategies. Estimating this risk is computationally challenging since the data we observe, i.e., the human incidence of TBE, is only the final outcome of the tick-host transmission and tick-human contact processes. The challenge also increases since the complex TBE virus (TBEV) transmission cycle involves the non-systemic route of transmission between co-feeding ticks. Here, we describe the hidden Markov transition process, using a novel TBEV transmission-human case reporting cascade model that couples the susceptible-infected compartmental model describing the TBEV transmission dynamics among ticks, animal hosts and humans, with the stochastic observation process of human TBE reporting given infection. By fitting human incidence data in Hungary to the transmission model, we estimate key parameters relevant to the tick-host interaction and tick-human transmission. We then use the parametrized cascade model to assess the transmission potential of TBEV in the enzootic cycle with respect to the climate change, and to evaluate the contribution of non-systemic transmission. We show that the TBEV transmission potential in the enzootic cycle has been increasing along with the increased temperature though the TBE human incidence has dropped since 1990s, emphasizing the importance of persistent public health interventions. By demonstrating that non-systemic transmission pathway is a significant factor in the transmission of TBEV in Hungary, we conclude that the risk of TBE infection will be highly underestimated if the non-systemic transmission route is neglected in the risk assessment.
Project description:The spread of tick-borne pathogens represents an important threat to human and animal health in many parts of Eurasia. Here, we analysed a 9-year time series of Ixodes ricinus ticks feeding on Apodemus flavicollis mice (main reservoir-competent host for tick-borne encephalitis, TBE) sampled in Trentino (Northern Italy). The tail of the distribution of the number of ticks per host was fitted by three theoretical distributions: Negative Binomial (NB), Poisson-LogNormal (PoiLN), and Power-Law (PL). The fit with theoretical distributions indicated that the tail of the tick infestation pattern on mice is better described by the PL distribution. Moreover, we found that the tail of the distribution significantly changes with seasonal variations in host abundance. In order to investigate the effect of different tails of tick distribution on the invasion of a non-systemically transmitted pathogen, we simulated the transmission of a TBE-like virus between susceptible and infective ticks using a stochastic model. Model simulations indicated different outcomes of disease spreading when considering different distribution laws of ticks among hosts. Specifically, we found that the epidemic threshold and the prevalence equilibria obtained in epidemiological simulations with PL distribution are a good approximation of those observed in simulations feed by the empirical distribution. Moreover, we also found that the epidemic threshold for disease invasion was lower when considering the seasonal variation of tick aggregation.
Project description:Powassan virus (POWV) is a rarely diagnosed cause of encephalitis in the United States. In the Northeast, it is transmitted by Ixodes scapularis, the same vector that transmits Lyme disease. The prevalence of POWV among animal hosts and vectors has been increasing. We present 8 cases of POWV encephalitis from Massachusetts and New Hampshire in 2013-2015.We abstracted clinical and epidemiological information for patients with POWV encephalitis diagnosed at 2 hospitals in Massachusetts from 2013 to 2015. We compared their brain imaging with those in published findings from Powassan and other viral encephalitides.The patients ranged in age from 21 to 82 years, were, for the most part, previously healthy, and presented with syndromes of fever, headache, and altered consciousness. Infections occurred from May to September and were often associated with known tick exposures. In all patients, cerebrospinal fluid analyses showed pleocytosis with elevated protein. In 7 of 8 patients, brain magnetic resonance imaging demonstrated deep foci of increased T2/fluid-attenuation inversion recovery signal intensity.We describe 8 cases of POWV encephalitis in Massachusetts and New Hampshire in 2013-2015. Prior to this, there had been only 2 cases of POWV encephalitis identified in Massachusetts. These cases may represent emergence of this virus in a region where its vector, I. scapularis, is known to be prevalent or may represent the emerging diagnosis of an underappreciated pathogen. We recommend testing for POWV in patients who present with encephalitis in the spring to fall in New England.
Project description:Rickettsia felis is a rickettsial pathogen primarily associated with the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis. Although laboratory studies have confirmed that R. felis is maintained by transstadial and transovarial transmission in C. felis, distinct mechanisms of horizontal transmission of R. felis among cat fleas are undefined. Based on the inefficient vertical transmission of R. felis by cat fleas and the detection of R. felis in a variety of haematophagous arthropods, we hypothesize that R. felis is horizontally transmitted between cat fleas. Towards testing this hypothesis, flea transmission of R. felis via a bloodmeal was assessed weekly for 4 weeks. Rhodamine B was used to distinguish uninfected recipient and R. felis-infected donor fleas in a rickettsial horizontal transmission bioassay, and quantitative real-time PCR assay was used to measure transmission frequency; immunofluorescence assay also confirmed transmission. Female fleas acquired R. felis infection more readily than male fleas after feeding on a R. felis-infected bloodmeal for 24 h (69.3% and 43.3%, respectively) and both Rickettsia-uninfected recipient male and female fleas became infected with R. felis after cofeeding with R. felis-infected donor fleas (3.3-40.0%). Distinct bioassays were developed to further determine that R. felis was transmitted from R. felis-infected to uninfected fleas during cofeeding and copulation. Vertical transmission of R. felis by infected fleas was not demonstrated in this study. The demonstration of horizontal transmission of R. felis between cat fleas has broad implications for the ecology of R. felis rickettsiosis.